Theories of Conflict and Violence - POLI9330

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


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.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 24
Private study hours: 176
Total study hours: 200


International Conflict and Security MA

Method of assessment

Essay, 5000 words (100%)

Reassessment methods: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Reading list (Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually)

Carlsnaes, Walter, Thomas Risse, and Beth A Simmons, eds. (2002). Handbook of International Relations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hugh Miall, Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse (2005). Contemporary Conflict Resolution: The Prevention, Management and Transformation of Deadly Conflicts, Cambridge: Polity.

Thomas Schelling. (1960). The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Gregg Barak. (2003). Violence and Nonviolence: Pathways to Understanding. Sage Publications.

Azar, Edward E. (1990) The Management of Protracted Social Conflict: Theory and Cases. Bookfield, VT: Gower Pub. Co..

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Understand key historical and theoretical issues in international conflict and the study of war and peace

2. Understand and explain conflict, including conflict at the international and intra-state levels

3. critically identify key debates in the discipline

4. Understand key concepts in Conflict Studies

5. Familiarize with applied methodological and epistemological methods in the field

6. Critically analyse historical and current cases of both intra-state and inter-state conflict

The intended generic learning outcomes. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. work with theoretical knowledge at the forefront of their discipline

2. engage critically with conflict phenomena, including the vocabulary, concepts, theories and methods of conflict studies

3. have a comprehensive understanding of methods and methodologies in their discipline

4. develop reasoned arguments, supported by relevant information, and exercise critical thinking

5. have a level of conceptual understanding that will allow them to critically evaluate research, advanced scholarship and methodologies and argue alternative approaches

6. describe, evaluate and apply different approaches involved in collecting, analysing and presenting political information

7. engage in academic and professional communication orally and in writing

8. have independent learning ability required for continuing professional study

9. collaborate with others and contribute effectively to the achievement of common goals


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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