What is International Studies?

What-is-International-Studies-400The International Studies major/specialisation at Monash is different from other majors because it recognizes that understanding the forces that shape globalisation, and the different challenges and opportunities that it poses to people around the world, cannot come from a single academic discipline. So, International Studies incorporates units from a range of different disciplines to equip you with the tools to understand how the modern world works.

You can take units that focus on an important theme in globalisation (like commerce and consumption, or disaster and crisis) or units organised geographically (focused on regions like Europe or Asia).

While every student is different, here is an example of how an International Studies major organised around an Asian Studies focus might look:


An Inter-disciplinary area of study

In International Studies, we approach the complex issue of globalisation from different perspectives, with all the expertise we can muster in the humanities, from across the Arts Faculty.

For example, below are different disciplinary approaches to the same issue: debates and controversies surrounding the ongoing practice of whaling.


For some communities, whaling is not just about exploiting a resource that has value as food and oil. Whaling is a seasonal activity, and has become a feature of many communities’ social and ritual calendars. The activity of whaling might involve ritual invocations, and the challenge of the hunt can also be the site for recognising transitions between life stages. In other words, whaling can have social meanings, and communities might wish to preserve these meanings in order to maintain the resilience and distinctiveness of the community. The world has recognised how whaling can have these meanings for communities, and for that reason, communities from Alaska to Eastern Indonesia hold traditional whaling licenses that allow them to hunt whales using traditional technologies. For anthropologists, the example of whaling calls us to be cautious about applying universal norms in areas concerning environmental and ecological interests. Quite often, we need to negotiate the specific needs of communities such as those for whom whaling is not just a ‘food thing’.


The town of Eden on the south coast of New South Wales is known for its whaling history. At the height of the whaling boom, in the nineteenth century, 30 boats operated out of the port. Today, Eden is a tourist town. Each year the town celebrates what it calls its Whale Festival, including indigenous lore, and whale watching. A historian thinking about this might want to trace the changing place of the whale in Eden. They would think about how attitudes to whales have changed and why. And they would think, also, about how the town uses its whaling history to build its identity today. How does it tell the story of its whaling past to build its present image?


Whaling is an issue that encapsulates much about the discipline of geography because it is intrinsically about the relationship between people and environment. Whaling activities are concentrated in certain kinds of places because of the natural phenomenon that structures how the industry of whaling functions. This gives rise to the development of ‘whaling towns’ and human populations dependent for the livelihoods on the industry of whaling. A geographical perspective would seek to understand the spatial distribution of whaling activities, and the impacts of whaling on society and environment.


Philosophers are primarily interested in fundamental questions about how we make sense of the world and how we ought to act in the world. In relation to the topic of whaling, questions a philosopher might ask include the following. Is there anything intrinsically wrong with killing large sentient mammals, like whales, or is the wrongness of whaling just dependent on whether this has bad consequences? Can we ascribe any moral rights to whales? What moral value, if any, do natural ecosystems have? If whales were conscious (in the sense of being able to conceive of themselves as discrete beings existing over time), what sort of evidence would be required in order for us to know that that is the case? And how does the ethical status of whales hinge upon the question of whether whales are conscious? In a philosophy essay, there’s less emphasis on gathering evidence to answer these sorts of questions, and more emphasis on examining the abstract arguments that might be given for or against a particular view or hypothesis.