GV4E8      Half Unit
Power Sharing and Institutional Design in Divided Societies

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Paul Mitchell


This course is available on the MSc in European and International Public Policy, MSc in Political Science (Conflict Studies and Comparative Politics), MSc in Political Science (Global Politics), MSc in Political Science (Political Behaviour), MSc in Political Science (Political Science and Political Economy) and MSc in Public Policy and Administration. This course is not available as an outside option.

Priority will be given to students on the MSc in Political Science (Conflict Studies and Comparative Politics). This course is capped at 2 groups.

Course content

The 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. We begin with the problems of political violence and civil wars. Civil wars end but often restart. 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. The institutional focus will include peace agreements and the making of new constitutions. We will analyse electoral system design for divided societies, the ‘timing’ of first elections, the dynamics of electoral and party competition within ethnic segmentation. The final section of the course looks at power-sharing designs for divided societies: consociational governance (power-sharing constitutions, executives, legislatures); and at territorial approaches to conflict regulation (partition, federalism, ethno-federalism and regional autonomy). Finally – Why do some power-sharing regimes succeed while others fail?


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars (10 x 1.5 hours) and lectures (10 x 2 hours) totalling a minimum of 35 hours in Winter Term. There will be a reading week in Week 6 of the WT.

Formative coursework

Briefing papers on pre-selected key concepts/cases.

Indicative reading

Wallensteen, Peter (2023). Understanding Conflict Resolution. London: Sage.

Lijphart, Arend (2008). Thinking about Democracy: Power Sharing and Majority Rule in Theory and Practice. London: Routledge. [the collected writings of Lijphart].

Cederman, Lars-Erik, Simon Hug and Julian Wucherpfennig (2022). Sharing Power, Securing Peace? Ethnic Inclusion and Civil War. Cambridge University Press.

Casperson, Nina (2017). Peace Agreements. London: Polity.

Cederman, Lars-Erik et al. (2013) Inequality, Grievances and Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

McCulloch, Alison and John McGarry (2017, eds) Power-Sharing: Empirical and Normative Challenges. 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.


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. Since you will be working on something that really interests you I hope that this will be an enjoyable experience.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 38.5
Merit 58.5
Pass 3.1
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2022/23: 27

Average class size 2022/23: 13

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication