DV420      Half Unit
Complex Emergencies

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof David Keen CON.7.15


This course is available on the MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Columbia), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Hertie), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and NUS), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Sciences Po), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Tokyo), MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MPA in Social Impact, MSc in African Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management, MSc in Development Management, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Global Politics, MSc in Health and International Development, MSc in Human Rights, MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies, MSc in Urban Policy (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in Urbanisation and Development and Master of Public Administration. This course is not available as an outside option.

Please note that in case of over-subscription to this course priority will be given to students from the Department of International Development and its joint degrees (where their regulations permit).

Course content

The course examines the consequences and causes of humanitarian disasters. It looks at the changing nature of civil conflicts, at the famine process, and at the benefits that may arise for some groups from war and famine. It examines some of the roots of violence in civil wars, as well as the information systems that surround and help to shape disasters. The course is interdisciplinary and looks at political, economic and psychological functions of violence.


15 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars in the LT. 1 hour and 30 minutes of lectures in the ST.

There will be a ninety minute revision session at the beginning of ST.

There will be a reading week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will have the opportunity to receive feedback on formative work, in the form of a practice assessed essay.

Indicative reading

A detailed weekly reading list will be provided at the first course meeting. A useful text, which is designed in large part around the course, is David Keen, Complex Emergencies (Polity, 2008). Other texts of interest include David Keen, Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars is More Important than Winning Them (Yale University Press, 2012); Stathis Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2006); David Keen, Conflict and Collusion in Sierra Leone (James Currey, 2005); David Keen, Endless War? Hidden Functions of the 'War on Terror' (Pluto, 2006); Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge University Press, 2005); Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines (Oxford University Press, 1981); Frances Stewart and Valpy FitzGerald (eds.), War and Underdevelopment, Volumes 1 and 2 (Oxford University Press, 2001); and Jeremy Weinstein, Inside Violence: The Politics of Insurgent Violence (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Tim Allen, Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord's Resistance Army (Zed Press, 2006), Chris Dolan, Social Torture: The Case of Northern Uganda, 1986-2006 (Berghahn, 2009); Zoe Marriage, Not Breaking the Rules, Not Playing the Game: International Assistance to Countries in Conflict (Hurst and Co., 2006); Christopher Cramer, Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing: Accounting for Violence in Developing Countries (Hurst and Co., 2006); Mats Berdal and David Malone, Greed and Grievance: Economic Agendas in Civil Wars (Lynne Rienner, 2000); Hugo Slim, Killing Civilians: Method, Madness and Morality in War (Hurst and Co., 2008).


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

Student performance results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 16.8
Merit 72.4
Pass 10.3
Fail 0.4

Key facts

Department: International Development

Total students 2017/18: 108

Average class size 2017/18: 12

Controlled access 2017/18: Yes

Lecture capture used 2017/18: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information