GV318      Half Unit
Building Democracies from Conflict? Violence, Power-Sharing and Institutional Design

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Paul Mitchell


This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and History, BSc in Politics and International Relations, BSc in Politics and Philosophy and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

This course is capped at two groups.


Students may find it helpful to have completed Introduction to Political Science (GV101).

Course content

How can we design, build and sustain 'democracies' in less than ideal circumstances? We will explore societies torn apart by political violence and ethnic conflict.  The main purpose is to diagnose the central problems, and examine what political responses are most appropriate.  The first part of the course mostly looks at the problems, in particular political violence. We consider the likely futures for Iraq, Kurdistan and Islamic State.  What are the justifications for political violence?  How much political violence is there and what are the main types and trends?  We shall examine the strategies terrorism and suicide terrorism.  Since the end of the cold war, almost all wars are ‘civil wars’ and we will consider what causes civil wars, what sustains them (why do some last much longer than others?), and how do they end?

The second part of the course shifts the focus of attention to ‘solutions’ and policy responses to divided societies and failing states.   Informed responses might include: intervention, mediation and peace agreements; power-sharing and constitutional design; territorial management of conflict; transitional justice; elections, party systems and institutions for governing divided societies.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 30 hours in the Michaelmas Term. Some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and classes. There will be a Reading Week in Week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 project in the MT.

Formative  - one short project proposal - which should be a research design plan for the project. Students will receive written and verbal feedback on the viability and quality of their proposal, but it will not be graded. It is feedback and advice, not part of summative assessment. The deadline will be week 7, just after reading week in week 6. Length 1000 words. Pedagogically, preparation of the research proposal combined with advice and feedback will help improve the quality of the final project.

Indicative reading

Paul Collier (2010), Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places.  London: Vintage.

Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian Gleditsch and Halvard Buhaug (2013), Inequality, Grievances and Civil War. Cambridge University Press. 

Jonathan Tonge (2014), Comparative Peace Processes.  London: Polity.

Hannah Lerner (2011), Making Constitutions in Deeply Divided Societies.  Cambridge University Press.

Brendan O'Leary (2009), How to Get Out of Iraq with Integrity.  Penn: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Arend Lijphart (2008), Thinking about Democracy: Power-Sharing and Majority Rule in Theory and Practice.  Routledge.

Horowitz, Michael (2015), The Rise and Spread of Suicide Bombing’, Annual Review of  Political Science 18: 69-84.

Gilligan, Michael and Ernest Sergenti (2008), ‘Do UN Interventions Cause Peace? Using Matching to Improve Causal Inference’, Quarterly Journal of Political Science 3:89-122.

Vinjamuri, Leslie and Jack Snyder (2015), ‘Law and Politics in Transitional Justice’, Annual  Review of Political Science 18: 303-327.

Brancati, Dawn and Jack Snyder (2012), ‘Time to Kill: The Impact of Election Timing on Postconflict Stability’,  Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Brownlee, Jason, Tarek Masoud and Andrew Reynolds (2015), The Arab Spring: Pathways  of Repression and Reform.  Oxford University Press.

A full reading list will be available on Moodle.


Project (90%, 4000 words) in January.
Presentation (10%) in the MT.

As a final year course, the aim is to have a 'research output' as the main method of of assessment in the form of a mini-project.  This will be similar to the shorter 'research notes' sections of many academic journals and should not exceed 4,000 words. 

Students will also each make one seminar presentation, on which they will receive feedback and a grade.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 27.9
2:1 72.1
2:2 0
Third 0
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2019/20: 24

Average class size 2019/20: 11

Capped 2019/20: Yes (30)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills