85003 - Technology and international Relations

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Partnerships for the goals

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

The course aims to provide students with advanced knowledge of the interplay between technological change and international politics, by looking at a) how theories of International Relations address technological change; b) how military organizations have dealt with the introduction of new technologies; and c) how nations have been promoting technology and innovation policies as a key element to advance their standing in the international arena. At the end of the course students will acquire skills that allow them to address complex problems of political analysis underpinning innovation policy and organizational design.

Course contents

Technology is a key source of power, and technological change deeply affects international relations. At the same time, technology is not an autonomous factor in producing change: societal, political, economic and organizational factors interact with technological ones in shaping transformation in the international system. The course addresses the interplay between technology and (international) politics looking at a) the evolution of military technologies, b) how technology affects power distribution in the international system, and c) what states can do to develop effective (military) technologies. Section 1 is an introduction on the overall structure and rational of the course and discusses the role of technology in International Relations theory and in the modern international system (the “macro” level). Section 2 looks at the interplay between evolution of technology and organizations, looking at the sources of military innovation, at the role of intra-organizational factors in shaping change, with a focus on military organizations. Section 3 looks at how interstate competition, together with other material and immaterial factors, affects the development of tactics, operations, strategies and technologies, with particular attention to radar and air warfare as well as sonar and submarine warfare. Section 4 focuses on technological innovations and at the attempts to copy, steal them and replicate them, and how the technological diffusion affects the global distribution of power.

The course is run as a seminar. Students should expect the class to be structured as lectures delivered by the instructor followed by discussion. Case studies discussed by students will be a key part of the learning experience. Reading class material in advance is thus essential to participate successfully in the course. Students are expected to present on case studies individually and/or in small groups.


The full list of readings for students will be circulated on the first day of class and posted on the class website on “Insegnamenti Online”at iol.unibo.it

Students who do not regularly attend classes ("non frequentanti") should read:

  • Black, J., War and Technology, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, chs. 1-3 and 5
  • Herrera, G., Technology and international transformation: The railroad, the atom bomb, and the politics of technological change. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2006
  • Taylor, M. Z. (2016). The politics of innovation: Why some countries are better than others at science and technology. Oxford University Press

All books are available at https://sba.unibo.it/it/almare/collezioni/e-book

Teaching methods

The course is run as a seminar. Students should expect the first part of class conducted as a lecture followed by discussion and student presentations. Reading class material in advance is thus essential to participate successfully in the course. Students are expected to present on case studies individually and in small groups.

Assessment methods

Students who regularly attend classes:

  • mid-term written exam (1.5 hrs., (50% of the final grade): students should answer 4 short questions
  • short (4000/5000) research paper on a topic to be agreed with instructor (50% of the final grade)

Students who do not regularly attend classes will be assessed through a final written exam (2 hrs., 3 questions).

Teaching tools

The instructor will provide slides of lectures.

Office hours

See the website of Francesco Niccolò Moro

See the website of Mauro Gilli