Theories of Conflict and Violence - PO933

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
(version 2)
Autumn 7 20 (10) PROF K Buscher checkmark-circle


Conflict in its many forms has been a permanent feature of human history. While not all conflict is destructive, violent conflict has caused innumerable deaths and intense suffering. Over the centuries, inter-state war has been the major concern of the international community. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries are widely regarded as the most violent and destructive period of the modern era. As a result of the massive loss of life over the past two centuries, the study of conflict has developed considerably.
Today, however, the vast majority of conflicts and potential conflicts of concern to the international community are internal conflicts, most often in states or across regions undergoing major political, social, and economic transition and dislocation. These conflicts generally have different causes from inter-state war, as well as different effects and dynamics. A major challenge is to improve our understanding of such conflict in order to develop new approaches to conflict management and prevention.
Technologies of violence and their public uses for maximal political impact have also evolved significantly, forcing scholars to re-consider their conceptualisation of warfare.
Theories of Conflict and Violence is designed to examine the various approaches that have been developed to understand collective political violence in its different forms, notably by looking into the logics of users of force and the dynamics of their actions.
The aim of the course is to give students a comprehensive overview of the various theories of contemporary collective political violence. In the course of the module, it will be demonstrated how theories of conflict have evolved, and how theory seeks to explain why conflicts start, the constraints and opportunities that actors face, the characteristics of conflict, and the changing dynamics of conflict. In particular, it will:

1. Present an overview of different approaches to the study of collective political violence, including types of warfare;
2. Give students an understanding of why violent conflicts erupt and evolve (e.g. regionalise), taking into account systemic, behavioural, political, and objective factors;
3. Explain the differences between inter- and intra-state conflicts;
4. Study how perpetrators of violence engage in political violence, behave during wartime and how states or civilians respond
5. Consider the application of various theories to concrete cases, particularly in the context of contemporary conflicts


This module appears in the following module collections.


Autumn Term

Method of assessment

Students write one essay of approximately 5000 words addressing a recent (post-Cold War) or protracted conflict and seek to explain it drawing upon theories explored in the module. The essay is worth 100% of the final mark.

Indicative reading

Very indicative list:
Gutierrez Sanin, F. and Wood, E. 2014. "Ideology in civil war: Instrumental adoption and beyond". Journal of Peace Research 51(2): 213-226.
Kalyvas, Stathis.N. 2003. 'The Ontology of Political Violence'. Perspectives on Politics 1(3):475-94.
Lebow Richard Ned. 2010. Why Nations Fight: Past and Future Motives for War. Cambridge University Press.
Staniland, Paul. 2017. "Armed politics and the study of intrastate conflict" Journal of Peace Research 54(4): 459–467.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes
On successful completion of the module, students will be able to
- Understand key historical and theoretical issues in international conflict and the study of war and peace
- Understand and explain conflict, including conflict at the international and intra-state levels
- Ability to critically identify key debates in the discipline
- Understand key concepts in Conflict Studies
- Familiarize with applied methodological and epistemological methods in the field
- Critically analyze historical and current cases of both intra-state and inter-state conflict

The intended generic learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this module
- will be able to work with theoretical knowledge at the forefront of their discipline
- will engage critically with conflict phenomena, including the vocabulary, concepts, theories and methods of conflict studies
- will have a comprehensive understanding of methods and methodologies in their discipline
- will develop reasoned arguments, supported by relevant information, and exercise critical thinking
- will have a level of conceptual understanding that will allow them to critically evaluate research, advanced scholarship and methodologies and argue alternative approaches
- will describe, evaluate and apply different approaches involved in collecting, analysing and presenting political information
- will be able to engage in academic and professional communication orally and in writing
- will have independent learning ability required for continuing professional study
- collaborate with others and contribute effectively to the achievement of common goals


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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