Department of International Relations


International Relations research at Sussex has a long-standing international reputation reflecting the critical and diverse perspectives of its research staff and students.

As one of the largest concentrations of International Relations scholars in the world, we offer a vibrant and productive environment in which to conduct and present research, with a high level of impact on current world affairs. Our research contributes to IR-specific debates and its sub-fields and engages with cognate disciplines to address cross-disciplinary issues around security, economy, environment and health.

We are committed to critical, theoretically informed, politically engaged and simultaneously discipline-facing and interdisciplinary research, encouraging intellectual interaction with other research groups in the University and beyond.

Our research spans historical and normative international theory, global political economy, war, violence and security, and international development, plus newer substantive areas like global health policy and global environmental politics. Conceptually, our research draws upon, and contributes to the development of, Postcolonial, Poststructuralist, Marxist, Feminist, Queer, Green, critical constructivist, and analytical philosophy traditions.

We view engagement as an organic part of the research process and seek to combine theoretical innovation and reflection with wide-ranging political and public engagement from policy advice to governments and international organisations through to work to empower activist communities or to challenge abuses of state power.

We've had considerable success in gaining external funding for research projects dealing with many of these cutting-edge areas of International Relations from funders including the European Research Council, ESRC, Leverhulme and the KR Foundation.

The Department is an institutional member of Chatham House, the UK's largest international affairs think-tank, with research programmes dedicated to Energy, Environment and Development; International Economics; and Regional and Security Studies.

The department of International Relations at Sussex offers wide opportunities to pursue advanced research leading toward MPhil degrees. See our postgraduate study section for further information.

Our Research Excellence Framework 2021 results

100% of our International Relations Impact work and Environment was assessed in the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) to be of world-leading or internationally-excellent quality. Our International Relations Department’s research (as submitted to UoA 19 Politics and International Studies) was assessed overall to be 44% ‘world leading’ (4*) and 47% ‘internationally excellent’ (3*). This means that 91% of our work was assessed to be either ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. In particular, 62.5% of its research environment was assessed to be ‘conducive to producing world-leading research and outstanding impact’ (4*).


Our impact

Impact and Outreach 

Our approach to engagement and impact reflects and sharpens our critical, theoretically informed, and interdisciplinary orientations. We seek to bridge the theory-praxis divide, both by translating insights derived from practical political struggles into theory, and by presenting theoretically informed analyses to policy and practitioner audiences.We develop wide-ranging and creative approaches to communicating theoretically-informed analyses to non-academic audiences; develop concrete policy proposals; and engage in a large amount of media and social media outreach work.

Discover more here.

Research themes  

War, Violence and Security

The study of war and security has a long pedigree at Sussex and has been a growing area of the department.

Work in this area covers militarism, war and political violence, broader health and environmental security issues, peace processes, the politics of Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and South Asia, and is informed by distinctive theoretical positions. 

The group leads the interdisciplinary Centre for Global Insecurities Research alongside researchers from across the University. SCSR hosts and supports research projects and holds regular events such as academic conferences, workshops, lectures and seminars. 

Religion & Foreign Policy Initiative

The Religion & Foreign Policy Initiative (RFPIengages in research projects and policy dialogues offering the latest thinking and practical policy recommendations on religion within international policy. Key thematics to research and policy work include Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB); and interreligious engagement and collaboration as a crucial tool for fostering pluralism, social cohesion and sustainable peace. 

RFPI was launched in 4 April 2017 as the FoRB and Foreign Policy Initiative in a public Symposium at the University of Sussex on ‘The Influence of Religion in Global Politics’ co-organised with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief. It ran for an initial five-year period from 2017-22 before relaunching as the RFPI: the website archive for the previous FoRB & Foreign Policy Initiative can be accessed here.

Global Political Economy

Global Political Economy (GPE) is one of the most vibrant areas of International Relations and brings the study of economic and social processes and power relations into International Relations. It examines with how global capitalism generates diverse patterns of wealth, exploitation, dispossession, and ecological devastation around the world, as well as how these dynamics are resisted by communities and social movements. It also draws on scholarship in sociology, human geography, social psychology, political ecology, and other socials sciences.

We have an international reputation as a leading centre of research and study in GPE and have renowned GPE specialists in the history and theory of international political economy, problems of global finance, transnational socio-economic relations, gender and race, and the environment.

We are home to the Centre of Global Political Economy (CGPE), a community of students and scholars of contemporary political-economic transformations, challenges, and alternative world orders. The Centre includes members from International Relations, Human Geography, IDS and Anthropology from the University of Sussex and beyond.

Rights, Ethics and Anti-Colonial Justice

International Relations at Sussex has historically been at the forefront of the study of justice and rights beyond their liberal articulations, historicising their pursuit as scholarly enquiry and activist praxis within the histories and legacies of colonialism, including the impact of this on knowledge production.

Current work in this area presently covers:

  • ascendance of 'rights talk', and its constitutive effects on states, global political discourse and selfhood
  • normative theorising of responsibility for human rights
  • contemporary transformations in the nature and practices of social movements
  • humanitarianism and aid in the postcolonial context
  • business and human rights
  • decolonial and reparative ethics and justice
  • decolonising social and political theory
  • theorising and historicising the colonial global economy
  • indigenous resurgence, movements and rights
  • inter-subaltern hierarchies and world order
  • imperial relations of militarism and the ethics of the arms trade
  • aesthetic and socio-poetic explorations of postcolonial precarity
  • struggles for reparation and freedom from enslavement
  • the rise of global social fascism in neoliberalism
  • humanisation, dehumanisation, and rethinking the human
  • genocide studies

Many faculty members working on these themes are members of the Centre for Rights and Anti-colonial Justice 

Global Health

The Department of International Relations has been pioneering research into global health politics for more than two decades – undertaking several original studies about major global health emergencies like COVID-19, Ebola, pandemic flu and HIV/AIDS.

Today the IR department hosts a vibrant research cluster of social scientists, research fellows and doctoral students exploring the international politics of health. This cluster is generating new research about how global health policy is shaped by the rapidly evolving international and geo-political environment. It is undertaking interdisciplinary examinations of an array of contemporary global health policy challenges that require international coordination between a wide array of state and non-state actors. This thriving research cluster is also producing innovative studies of the evolving power relations characterising the field of global health, exploring both powerful and marginalized actors in the international politics of health.

Many of those scholars also collaborate through the Centre for Global Health Policy (CGHP), co-directed by Professor Stefan Elbe and Dr. Anne Roemer-Mahler. This research centre has produced many original books and articles about global health politics over the course of the past decade, has organized a variety of international conferences and workshops on global health security, as well as attracting numerous external research grants.

Critical and Historical International Relations Theory

During the 1960s, International Relations at Sussex was headed by Martin Wight - perhaps the most famous of all British international theorists.

Research in the department today continues and extends Wight's philosophical and historical orientations, while adding a distinctive critical edge too. Work in this area covers themes including:

  • the historical and philosophical critique of liberal international perspectives
  • the relevance of continental philosophy and social theory for international thought, including the thought of Karl Marx, Max Weber, Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt and Michel Foucault
  • culture, religion, subjectivity, gender and sexuality, as dimensions of international power
  • explorations in the rapidly expanding genres of World History and Civilisational Encounters
  • the development of new historical materialist and historical sociological approaches for international studies.

Weber’s 2016 book Queer International Relations, combining IR theory and Queer theory, was awarded two International Studies Association prizes. Weber received the ISA LGBTQA Caucus Book Award and the ISA Yale H. Ferguson Award which recognised "the book that most advances the vibrancy of international studies as a pluralist discipline”.

Faculty members form the core of the Centre for Advanced International Theory and encourage innovative theoretical research in International Relations from within and outside the discipline.