GV4A8      Half Unit
Nationalist Conflict, Political Violence and Terrorism

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof James Hughes CON5.05


This course is available on the MSc in Conflict Studies. This course is not available as an outside option.

This course is not open to students on other programmes.

Course content

How can we distinguish legitimate resistance and political violence from terrorism? What is the relationship between war and terror? What distinguishes a combatant from non-combatant? Do counterinsurgency methods based on force and the securitization of the state work? Should we erode civil liberties and democratic values to fight terrorism? What consequences follow from the prominent role of psychologists in the study of political violence and terrorism? This course attempts to answer these and similar questions by a comparative examination of the theories and ethics of political violence and the root causes, nature and types, and dynamics of violence. This course also evaluates different political and security policies and methods of conflict resolution as change agents. A number of case studies of historical and contemporary conflicts are examined to illustrate the theoretical and policy dilemmas. The course has two parts. Firstly, it examines definitions and concepts, the root causes and factors of radicalization in political violence, the ethical dilemmas, the principles and efficacy of the laws and norms of armed conflict, repertoires of political violence, and the evolution from the era of decolonization of state counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterrorism policies. Key motifs in COIN and counterterrorism will be examined including coercive versus cooperative approaches, the spectrum of dealing with communal resistance from genocide to cooption, policies of criminalization, and the balance between security and liberty. Secondly, it explores the key issues and debates through a number of case studies that analyse political violence and terrorism in democracies and non-democracies, including the insurgency and counterinsurgency in Northern Ireland and Iraq, and the new transnational challenges posed by Al Qaeda and ISIS. Throughout the course comparisons will be made and lessons drawn from the performance of different regime types (colonial, democratic, transitional democratic, and authoritarian) in managing political violence. This is a Moodle course.


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the MT for private study and assessment preparation.

Formative coursework

One essay of 2,500 words. Students will also contribute to a group presentation.

Indicative reading

Tore Bjorgo ed. Root Causes of Terrorism, Routledge (2005); Andrew Silke ed. Terrorists, Victims and Society, Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and its Consequences, Wiley (2003); David Whittaker, The Terrorism Reader, Routledge (3rd edn, 2007); Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, Basic Books (1992); Arguing about War, Yale University Press (2004); Michael Ignatieff The Lesser Evil. Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, Edinburgh University Press (2005); James Hughes, Chechnya from Nationalism to Jihad, University of Pennsylvania Press (2008); Marc Sageman, Leaderless Jihad, UPenn Press (2007): Jeff Victoroff and Arie W. Kruglanski eds, Psychology of Terrorism. Classic and Contemporary Insights, Psychology Press (2009).


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.

Student performance results

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 19
Merit 75
Pass 6
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2015/16: 60

Average class size 2015/16: 15

Controlled access 2015/16: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication