nl en

Contestation of International Authority


This course is earmarked for NECD, IP, PPD


This course examines the conflictual relationship between international organizations (IOs) and their member states. We will begin by covering theoretical debates about multilateralism in International Relations theory, and the role of IOs as agents of member states as opposed to independent actors with an agenda of their own. We will then discuss the most recent contestation of IO authority by member states, illustrated for example through Brexit, the withdrawal of states from the International Criminal Court and the Trump government’s “America First” strategy. We will further draw some comparisons to historical periods of contestation and examine IOs’ responses to member state contestation. Finally, the last part of the course engages in an empirical analysis in which we will study current and past forms of contestation with regard to a variety of selected IOs.

Course objectives

This course is a bi-weekly seminar which focuses on student-based learning techniques. Students are therefore expected to prepare for, guide and contribute to extensive in-class discussions. Students will gain insights into important challenges for the current international system. Besides acquiring in-depth theoretical and empirical knowledge about the topics of multilateralism and the role of IOs in International Relations, students will learn how to critically engage with academic texts. Moreover, this seminar will help students developing their research skills in the preparation of their final thesis, as they are expected to undertake some smaller research activities on the topics of the seminar.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

  • 28 hours of classes (attendance is mandatory)

  • 84 hours of reading and class preparation (12 hours per week over 7 weeks)

  • 168 hours to complete the assignments
    Total: 280 hours

Assessment method

  • Participation and group-work (20%)

  • In-class assignments (35%)

  • Final paper* (45%)*The final paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. The resit is only available to students whose mark on the final examined element—the final paper—is insufficient. For the other assignments, no option of a resit is available.


Course information will be accessible via Brightspace before the start of the course.

Reading list

Students are expected to be familiar with the following readings before the start of the course:
Abbott, Kenneth W. and Duncan Snidal (1998). Why States Act through Formal International Organizations. Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 3-32.
Simmons, Beth A. and Lisa L. Martin (2002). International organizations and institutions. Handbook of International Relations. Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse and Beth A. Simmons, Eds., London, Sage: 192-211.

The course reading list and the course syllabus will be posted on Brightspace before the start of the course.


See 'Practical Information'


See 'MyTimetable


Dr. Gisela Hirschmann