GV4A8      Half Unit
Nationalist Conflict, Political Violence and Terrorism

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof James Hughes


This course is available on the MSc in Conflict Studies. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Availability to students outside the MSc Conflict Studies is subject to space. This course is capped at two groups. The deadline for applications is 17:00 on Tuesday 29 September 2020. You will be informed of the outcome by 17:00 on Wednesday 30 September 2020.

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? Should we erode civil liberties and democratic values to fight terrorism? How do social scientists theorise about 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 motivations for engaging in political violence, the ethical dilemmas, the principles and efficacy of the laws and norms of armed conflict, and repertoires of political violence. We examine the historical evolution from the era of nineteenth century ideologically driven violence, through decolonization to the present day of state counterinsurgency and counterterrorism policies. Key policies in counterinsurgency 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, the course 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, Chechnya and Iraq, and different forms of extremist ideologically driven violence, including the transnational challenges posed by Al Qaeda and ISIS, and new forms of White Supremacism. Throughout the course comparisons will be made and lessons drawn from the performance of different regime types (colonial, democratic, and authoritarian) in managing political violence. This is a Moodle course.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 31 hours in the Michaelmas Term (including a 1 hour lecture for exam discussion). Some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and seminars. 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 must also contribute to a team 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, Understanding Terror Networks, University of Pennsylvania Press (2004) and Leaderless Jihad, Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, University of Pennsylvania Press (2007), and Misunderstanding Terrorism, University of Pennsylvania Press (2016); Jeff Victoroff and Arie W. Kruglanski eds, Psychology of Terrorism. Classic and Contemporary Insights, Psychology Press (2009); Cas Mudde, The Populist Radical Right: A Reader, Routledge (2017).


Online assessment (100%) in January.

2 hour online exam in the January exam period.

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: 28

Average class size 2019/20: 10

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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