Not available in 2015/16
GV4E8      Half Unit
Conflict and Institutional Design in Divided Societies

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Paul Mitchell CON5.14


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in EU Politics, MSc in EU Politics (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in Global Politics, MSc in Global Politics (Global Civil Society) and MSc in Political Science and Political Economy. This course is not available as an outside option.

Priority will be given to students on the MSc in Conflict Studies. This course is capped at 2 groups. The deadline for applications is Monday, 20 October 2014.


Course content

The internal resolution of serious ethnic and national conflicts almost inevitably involves some form of power sharing and/or power division (autonomy and federation). While power sharing is often invoked in normative and comparative accounts of conflict resolution, it is less frequently systematically examined. Conflict and Institutional Design (CID) is a comparative analysis of the making, maintenance and too often breaking of power sharing agreements. When and how are peace agreements negotiated? What type of power-sharing and federal designs are available? Under what conditions is power sharing likely to help contain conflict, and when does it fail? The course will pay particular attention to what happens after a power-sharing agreement is reached. We will examine the 'content' of peace agreements, spoiler attempts to undermine the peace, and the increasing use of 'transitional justice' mechanisms. The institutional focus will include analysis of electoral system design for divided societies, the dynamics of electoral and party competition within ethnic segmentation and consociational governance (power-sharing executives, legislatures and federations). While not neglecting theory and concepts, whenever possible the course will examine the quantitative and qualitative evidence on the successes and failures of power sharing.


20 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Two briefing papers on pre-selected key concepts/cases.

Indicative reading

Lijphart, Arend (2008). Thinking about Democracy: Power Sharing and Majority Rule in Theory and Practice. London: Routledge; .Noel, Sid (2005, ed), From Power Sharing to Democracy. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press; Norris, Pippa (2008). Driving Democracy: Do Power-Sharing Institutions Work? Cambridge University Press; Reynolds, Andrew (ed) The Architecture of Democracy: Constitutional Design, Conflict Management and Democracy. Oxford UP; Powell, G. Bingham (2000). Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions. New Haven: Yale UP; Hayner, Priscilla (2011, 2nd edition). Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions. Routledge; Shugart, Matthew Soberg and John Carey (1992). Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. Cambridge UP; Roeder, Philip and Donald Rothchild (2005). Sustainable Peace: Power and Democracy After Civil Wars. Cornell UP; Lijphart, Arend (1977). Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration. New Haven: Yale University Press; Nordlinger, Eric (1972). Conflict Regulation in Divided Societies. Occasional Papers in International Affairs. Cambridge, MA: Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; O'Leary, Brendan, Ian Lustick and Thomas Callaghy (2001, eds). Right-Sizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders. Oxford UP; Diamond, Larry and Marc Platter (2006, eds). Electoral Systems and Democracy. Johns Hopkins UP; Gallagher, Michael and Paul Mitchell (2005, eds, The Politics of Electoral Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Reilly, Benjamin (2001). Democracy in Divided Societies: Electoral Engineering for Conflict Management. Oxford UP; Birnir, Johanna Kristin (2007). Ethnicity and Electoral Politics. Cambridge University Press.


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the ST.

The research essay will be on a topic of your choice. Having said that the topic will be discussed between each of you and myself and I must approve the topic. The research paper should ideally examine a research question using relevant concepts and theories, and must have an empirical dimension that is relevant to the themes of the course. 'Empirical' is understood in the broadest sense: your material could be a case study set in an appropriate theoretical framework, it could examine a theme with comparative case studies, it could be quantitative or qualitative. Whatever is deemed appropriate to the research question at hand. Bear in mind though that broad surveys are generally not a good idea. After all 5000 words is about half the standard size of a journal article. Much more advice about the essay will be given as the course progresses both collectively and in individual meetings with each of you. One of the aims in asking participants to write a paper is to help you to think about research questions and appropriate research design. Thus we are aiming at more than a traditional essay (which largely summarizes what significant others have said), and to begin to make the transition towards ‘postgraduate research’ in which you help develop new insights and/or new empirical knowledge. This should also help you when approaching the planning and writing of your MSc dissertation. Since you will be working on something that really interests you I hope that this will be an enjoyable experience. Of course it will also be challenging; but there will be an understanding that there is only so much you can do in the limited time available. As such you will not be asked to write any un-assessed essays. Instead, during the term, you will be asked to work on your research essay, which I will read, and discuss with you. This should give you a chance to revise your paper and to achieve a better plan by the end of the term. Here is how the work will be organised: 1. By the end of week 7 – (e-mail directly to me), you should hand in the first part of your research essay, which should consist of a provisional title, brief statement of research topic and ‘state of the art’ (very short literature review), possible research question, and proposed method. This should be 2-3 pages since the aim is to advise on the appropriateness and viability of your proposed research essay. 2. Your final research essay will be due by 27 April 12pm (first day of the summer term). Note: for the final paper please return directly to the main Government office and get a receipt proving submission AND send me an electronic copy). Please note that all papers that count towards grades are electronically scanned with up to date plagiarism software. In addition to revisions to the two parts above you will now discuss your findings, and draw some conclusions. The 5000 word limit will be enforced, and is about 15-18 pages of A4 double spaced. The number of words used must be clearly stated on the cover page (the total includes main text, footnotes / endnotes and tables (but not appendices).

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 8.5
Merit 77.4
Pass 14.2
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2014/15: 18

Average class size 2014/15: 9

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication