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Contestation of International Authority



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 current contestation of IO authority by member states, illustrated for example through Brexit, the withdrawal of states from the International Criminal Court and the US government’s “America First” strategy. We will further draw some comparisons to historical periods of contestation. Finally, the last part of the course contains 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 (25%)

  • In-class assignments (30%)

  • Final paper* (45%)
    The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. There is no option of a retake for individual assignments.
    *The final research paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.


Course information will be accessible via Blackboard 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.
Mearsheimer, John (1994). The False Promise of International Institutions. International Security, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 5-49.
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.
Wendt, Alexander (1992). Anarchy is what States make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics. International Organization, Vol 46, No. 2, pp. 391-425.

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


See Preliminary Info

This course is earmarked for the specialisation IP




Dr. Gisela Hirschmann