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2023/24 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

PIED5598M Civil War and Intrastate Conflict

30 creditsClass Size: 40

Module manager: Professor Edward Newman

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is approved as an Elective

Module summary

This module will explore the nature, causes and impact of civil war and intrastate armed conflict in the 21st century. The emphasis will be upon the political, social and institutional factors that are relevant to this violence, and broader patterns of armed conflict – including possible future conflict patterns. The module will consider the methodologies of understanding and framing intrastate violence, focussing upon the tensions between mainstream empirical approaches and the ‘critical’ challenge to this. The module will also explore debates about so-called ‘state failure’ and ‘new wars’, and the changing nature of armed conflict. These debates will be illustrated throughout the module with reference to a wide range of contemporary cases, including Liberia, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and the rise of the ‘Islamic State’. The module will conclude by considering international efforts to prevent, manage, contain and resolve intrastate armed conflict.


The module will support learning around the following questions:
1 How are civil wars and intrastate armed conflict defined, understood and measured?

2 How are factors such as ethnicity, weak state capacity, poverty and horizontal inequalities, political exclusion and transition, natural resources, environmental change, globalization, and food price rises relevant to the onset of instability and conflict?

3 Is armed conflict changing in nature in historical perspective? What does the ‘New Wars’ idea bring to our understanding of contemporary armed conflict? Do new technologies – including social media – change the nature of upheaval? Is the distinction between civil war, ‘state failure’, communal violence and criminality increasingly blurred?

- Despite major recent armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – amongst many others – why have many analysts argued that all types of organized violence, including civil wars, have been in decline in historical perspective?

- Does the ‘failed state’ concept provide an overarching narrative for armed conflict in the 21st Century?

- Are international approaches aimed at containing, managing and resolving armed conflict appropriate and effective for the 21st Century?

Learning outcomes
Students will achieve an advanced understanding of armed conflict and civil war, based upon the theoretical literature and illustrated with reference to contemporary cases. Through this module students will be able to:

a) Demonstrate an awareness of scientific debates about the causes, nature and impact of intrastate armed conflict;
b) Demonstrate knowledge of the key methodological challenges of understanding and analyzing such conflict;
c) Demonstrate the ability to apply theoretical concepts about armed conflict to the analysis of contemporary cases;
d) Demonstrate an understanding of some of the international policy debates relevant to preventing and containing armed conflict and building peace after major violence.


Course outline

Week 1: Introduction. Civil war and intrastate armed conflict: key debates and questions

Week 2: ‘Civil war’: analytical challenges and methodological debates

Week 3: Patterns of civil wars in historical perspective: Is civil war in decline?

Week 4: The causes of intrastate armed conflict: ‘greed’, ‘grievance’, and beyond

Week 5: ‘Ethnic conflict’

Week 6: Rising food prices and social instability/conflict

Week 7: ‘New Wars’ and ‘failed states’: a new security paradigm? Is statebuilding the answer?

Week 8: The dynamics of violence and atrocities

Week 9: The driving forces of armed conflict and instability: implications for the future

Week 10: 21st Century armed conflict: case illustrations

Week 11: Peacekeeping and peacebuilding: preventing, managing, containing and resolving armed conflict

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours278.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

The module will require private and independent study. The module outline will have an extensive list of recommended literature, some of which will be required for the seminars and for assessed written assignments. Some of the seminars will require student presentations – either individual or group – and these will also require independent research and group preparation.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Attendance at lectures and seminars will be compulsory (excepting special circumstances) and the module convenor will therefore have regular contact with students, providing an ongoing opportunity for monitoring progress. The first written assessment (literature review) will be submitted half way through the term, allowing the convenor to monitor progress and given feedback and if necessary support to students.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Literature Review1 x 2000 Word Literature Review (Midterm)30.00
Essay1 x 3500 End of Term Essay70.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 28/04/2023 14:51:20


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