Understanding Civil War

Module titleUnderstanding Civil War
Module codePOL3225
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Nils-Christian Bormann (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module introduces you to the causes, dynamics, consequences, and possible resolution methods of civil war, the most prevalent form of political violence since World War 2. Participants will actively engage with up-to-date quantitative and qualitative research on topics such as inequality and the motivations of rebellion, theories of insurgency and counter-insurgency, civilian targeting, and dilemmas in establishing peace in war-torn societies. While exposed to diverse theoretical approaches, students will also get to know important datasets of political violence, learn how to probe empirical studies for reliability and validity, and design their own research.

This module is suitable for non-specialist students. The module is recommended for students with a background in economics, sociology, or history.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Next to becoming acquainted with the most important theories that explain the outbreak, dynamics, and resolution of civil wars, you will acquire skills that help them to criticize and improve upon qualitative and quantitative work. You will have to formulate their critique both in writing and verbally through in-class participation and debates.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Master theories of the causes and consequences of civil war
  • 2. Develop strategic approach to conflict resolution

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Assess the validity and reliability of data of common political science datasets
  • 4. Design own research using political science methods

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Write analytically on empirical cases
  • 6. work with new data sources

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

Introduction and causes of civil war; civil war datasets reliability

Dynamics of civil war including fighter recruitment, insurgency strategies, and civilian targeting

Research design in studies of civil war

Conflict resolution

New topics in the study of civil war such as rebel governance, rebel state-building, and student wishes

Presentation of research designs

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching Activities4422 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study51Revision and review of class activities
Guided Independent Study80Reading assignments
Guided Independent Study20Preparation and writing of two critical response papers
Guided Independent Study40Preparation and writing of case study
Guided Independent Study5Preparation for Presentation
Guided Independent Study60Preparation and writing of research design


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Class participationThroughout the year1-2Written
Presentation of research design (individual)10 minute presentation1 or 2, 4-6Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Case study of civil war in light of theory352000 words1 or 2, 3, 5 & 6Written
Research design503000 words1 or 2, 4-6Written
Two critical response papers15400 words each1 or 2, 3Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research designResearch design (3,000 words)1 or 2, 4-6Aug/Sep re-assessment period
Two critical response papersTwo critical response papers (400 words each)1 or 2, 3Aug/Sep re-assessment period
Case study of civil war in light of theoryCase study (2,000 words)1 or 2, 3, 5 & 6Aug/Sep re-assessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian S. Gleditsch, and Halvard Buhaug. Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 2013.

Barbara F. Walter. Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. 2002.

Michael Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis. Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ. 2006.

Stathis N. Kalyvas. The Logic of Violence in Civil War. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, MA 2006.

Paul Staniland. Networks of Rebellion. Cornell University Press. Ithaka, NY, 2014.

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Civil war, conflict resolution, insurgency

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?