Not available in 2017/18
GV307      Half Unit
Political and Ethnic Conflict and Coexistence: Key Debates

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Omar Mcdoom


This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and International Relations and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is not available to General Course students.

This course is capped at two groups. The deadline for receipt of applications is Friday 2 October 2015.

Course content

This course is designed to engage students with several of the more critical normative and empirical controversies relating to the justification, explanation, and termination of violence.  The course focuses on violence commonly characterized as political, ethnic, or religious in nature and will illustrate each of the highlighted debates with a touchstone case drawn from the contemporary world. 

The selection of debates and cases will evolve year-to-year as the scholarly frontier of understanding and the world's catalogue of conflicts also evolve.  However, by way of example, students grapple with empirical and normative questions such as: (i) Is it more effective to address underlying grievances when responding to political violence or is it better simply to constrain the actor's opportunity to commit it?  Students here will assess existing evidence of the effectiveness of the response of liberal democracies to the threat of militant Islam within and outside of their countries' borders; (ii) Is the decision to engage in violence a rational choice or do powerful emotions such as fear, hatred, and resentment have a causal role?  Students here will be asked to analyze evidence from Rwanda's 1994 genocide of the actions of the Hutu extremist elite who organized and the ordinary Rwandans who committed violence; (iii) Should we concern ourselves with the ethical and legal constraints on the use of violent force in international politics or is it wiser to accept politics are preeminent? Students here will examine the US government's case for war in Iraq in 2003 through the lenses of just war theory, public international law, and popular politics; (iv)  Should we accept the arguments in favour of international interventions to end violence or is there a rationale for 'giving war a chance'?  Students will consider the doctrine of the 'Responsibility to Protect' in the context of the violence continuing in Darfur, the Sudan.

The course is taught as a research seminar comprising ten weekly two-hour sessions.   Given its research-oriented focus, the course is attentive to methodology and students will be taught to critically evaluate the more common approaches to empirical research in the field.   Students will have the opportunity to undertake a single substantial research project on a course-related topic resulting in an assessed summative essay of 4000 words.


20 hours of seminars in the MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the MT.

Indicative reading

Evans, G. and M. Sahnoun (2002). "The responsibility to protect." Foreign Affairs 81(6): 99-110.

Toft, M. D. (2010). "Ending Civil Wars: A Case for Rebel Victory?" International Security 34: 7-36.

Figueiredo, R. D. and B. Weingast (1999). The rationality of fear: Political opportunism and ethnic conflict. Civil Wars, Insecurity, and Intervention. Walter and Snyder. New York, Columbia University Press: 261-302.

Petersen, R. D. (2002). Understanding ethnic violence : fear, hatred, and resentment in twentieth-century Eastern Europe. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Cederman, L.E., N.B. Weidmann, et al. (2011). "Horizontal Inequalities and Ethnonationalist Civil War: A Global Comparison." American political science review 105(03): 478-495.

Collier, P., A. Hoeffler, et al. (2009). "Beyond greed and grievance: feasibility and civil war." Oxford Economic Papers 61(1): 1-27.

Jon Western, The War Over Iraq: Selling War To The American Public, Security Studies 14, no. 1 (January–March 2005): pp. 106–139


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in May.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Capped 2016/17: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Application of information skills
  • Communication