IR universities in the UK question: Specialisation and political leanings Watch

Propagandalf
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Hey! I'm an EU student entering my last year of IB, and I am completely confused by the international and UK university rankings for IR and I want to make the right choice.

Right now I'm set on a joint degree of philosophy and IR at St Andrews as my second choice behind Oxford's PPE, but I have no insight on the general political stances and specialisation of the faculty at the apparent top universities specifically for International Relations (LSE, St. Andrews etc.) and I am aware how impactful that can be on the course. Could someone help me differentiate between the specialisation and general leaning of the faculty in the top UK IR institutions? I'm a tiny bit lost.
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User8612
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(Original post by Propagandalf)
Hey! I'm an EU student entering my last year of IB, and I am completely confused by the international and UK university rankings for IR and I want to make the right choice.

Right now I'm set on a joint degree of philosophy and IR at St Andrews as my second choice behind Oxford's PPE, but I have no insight on the general political stances and specialisation of the faculty at the apparent top universities specifically for International Relations (LSE, St. Andrews etc.) and I am aware how impactful that can be on the course. Could someone help me differentiate between the specialisation and general leaning of the faculty in the top UK IR institutions? I'm a tiny bit lost.
Specialisation is easy to figure out. All you have to do is go through the staff profiles on the department webpages and it will tell you - not difficult! When it comes to political leanings, why should this matter?
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Propagandalf
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(Original post by User8612)
Specialisation is easy to figure out. All you have to do is go through the staff profiles on the department webpages and it will tell you - not difficult! When it comes to political leanings, why should this matter?

Speaking with different IR scholars made me realise how different schools will most likely prefer a certain leaning or tradition within the social sciences and humanities they teach in. An Economics course isn't just an economics course for example, it can have a monetarist focus or even a marxist one. I want to consider this when applying.
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User8612
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(Original post by Propagandalf)
Speaking with different IR scholars made me realise how different schools will most likely prefer a certain leaning or tradition within the social sciences and humanities they teach in. An Economics course isn't just an economics course for example, it can have a monetarist focus or even a marxist one. I want to consider this when applying.
IR is such a broad subject - perhaps the broadest of all the social sciences - that you'd be hard placed to figure out a political leaning for an entire department (certainly not a large one, at any rate) as the topics covered are so diverse: IPE, war and strategy, peacebuilding, human rights, international law, security, terrorism, international history, diplomacy, political theory, IR theory, regional specialisms, religion, the environment and climate change, institutional building and governance, and so on. You are more likely to be able to figure out an orientation toward social science in general - a preference for qualitative over quantiative research methods, for example. In a large department you are likely to encounter staff with a range of political leanings, but any good lecturer or professor (and the departments you mention are full of top quality academics) worth their salt should be exposing you to a range of different views on their particular issue of interest.
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Propagandalf
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(Original post by User8612)
IR is such a broad subject - perhaps the broadest of all the social sciences - that you'd be hard placed to figure out a political leaning for an entire department (certainly not a large one, at any rate) as the topics covered are so diverse: IPE, war and strategy, peacebuilding, human rights, international law, security, terrorism, international history, diplomacy, political theory, IR theory, regional specialisms, religion, the environment and climate change, institutional building and governance, and so on. You are more likely to be able to figure out an orientation toward social science in general - a preference for qualitative over quantiative research methods, for example. In a large department you are likely to encounter staff with a range of political leanings, but any good lecturer or professor (and the departments you mention are full of top quality academics) worth their salt should be exposing you to a range of different views on their particular issue of interest.
Thanks for the detailed feedback! How would one go about learning these specifics about said institutions? Would it be out of place to directly contact the departments in question?
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User8612
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(Original post by Propagandalf)
Thanks for the detailed feedback! How would one go about learning these specifics about said institutions? Would it be out of place to directly contact the departments in question?
I doubt contacting the departments would be particularly fruitful. You could start by going through the staff profiles on the department webpages to find out what each staff member's research interests are, and what their publications are. Sometimes you may be able to tell what their research orientation is from this information. If not, then you can look up some of their publications. If a staff member works on, say, civil wars and has written an article that utilises a large-n data set then that's a pretty good indication of a preference for quantitative research methods. If a staff member works on, to take a different example, transitional justice, and has written an article exploring emotional responses to truth and reconciliation commissions by utilising open-ended interviews, then that's a good indication that they have a preference for qualitative research methods. Neither of those, of course, will be a clue as to the political leanings of that individual. Many academics also contribute to blogs, or write pieces for OpenDemocracy or The Conversation, which are intended to be more accessible to a general audience, and you may be able to tell an individual's political leanings from those.
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Propagandalf
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(Original post by User8612)
I doubt contacting the departments would be particularly fruitful. You could start by going through the staff profiles on the department webpages to find out what each staff member's research interests are, and what their publications are. Sometimes you may be able to tell what their research orientation is from this information. If not, then you can look up some of their publications. If a staff member works on, say, civil wars and has written an article that utilises a large-n data set then that's a pretty good indication of a preference for quantitative research methods. If a staff member works on, to take a different example, transitional justice, and has written an article exploring emotional responses to truth and reconciliation commissions by utilising open-ended interviews, then that's a good indication that they have a preference for qualitative research methods. Neither of those, of course, will be a clue as to the political leanings of that individual. Many academics also contribute to blogs, or write pieces for OpenDemocracy or The Conversation, which are intended to be more accessible to a general audience, and you may be able to tell an individual's political leanings from those.
Yet again, thanks so much. I'll try going through the profiles of the department and see if I can make a more informed choice based on that.
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User8612
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(Original post by Propagandalf)
Yet again, thanks so much. I'll try going through the profiles of the department and see if I can make a more informed choice based on that.
I should add, though, that it's important to remember that while research and teaching are linked - in that the individual's research will inform their teaching - the nature of this link will be different for each academic, and you should not infer from an individual's publications anything about their teaching. A particular academic may be right- or left-leaning and this may influence topics that interest them, or theoretical approaches that they may be more or less likely to employ in their research, but that doesn't mean that their teaching of that subject matter will reflect their political leanings - certainly not in a blunt way, at least.
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