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Causes & Conduct of Conflict - POL00099M

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  • Department: Politics and International Relations
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Claire Smith
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This module examines the nature of contemporary armed conflict and war. Using both theoretical and empirical material, it analyses the causes, dynamics, purposes, and termination of armed conflict to understand the continued prominence of this human phenomenon.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module examines the nature of armed conflict and war using theoretical and empirical approaches. Students will critically engage with definitional questions of how we distinguish between armed conflict, war, and other forms of violence, and theories and debates on the nature of contemporary conflict, considering different conflict typologies such as inter- and intra-state conflict, internationalised intra-state conflict, separatist conflicts, ethno-religious and ethno-nationalist conflicts, and insurgency. They will analyse key causes of conflict, including themes like identity (ethnicity, nationalism, religion, etc), economics (opportunity costs, natural resources, poverty, etc), politics (ideology, ‘state failure’, etc), and territorial acquisition, in addition to theoretical perspectives on conflict causation. Students will also examine the dynamics of contemporary conflict, reflecting on the purpose and meaning of different forms of violence, such as mass atrocities, how these relate to the goals being pursued by conflicting parties, such as ethnic cleansing, and the political aspects of conflict organising including rebel governance and dynamics of war economies. Finally, students will also consider how armed conflicts and wars end, how we account for different endings in different cases, and why conflict recurs in many cases. Case studies will be drawn from all over the world, based on the wide range of expertise available within the Department, and may include the Middle East, Central Asia, South and Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin/Central America and Europe.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

At the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate awareness of the challenges and importance of defining what constitutes ‘armed conflict’ and ‘war’

  • Explain the complex nature of modern conflict and key contemporary trends

  • Critically reflect on the different causes of conflict identified and how they interact with each other

  • Understand the relationship between the dynamics of conflict and the goals being pursued by different actors

  • Explain why certain conflicts and wars end, how they end, and why others are more protracted

Academic and graduate skills

At the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Think critically about complex subjects

  • Communicate effectively in both verbal and written forms

  • Present complex concepts and topics confidently

  • Engage in effective secondary research


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

Edward Newman, Understanding Civil War (London: Routledge, 2014)

Mary Kaldor, New and old wars: organised violence in a global era (London: Polity Press, 2012)

Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Penguin, 2005)

Isabelle Duyvesteyn and Jan Angstrom, (eds.), Rethinking the Nature of War (London: Frank Cass, 2005)

Azar Gat, The Causes of War and the Spread of Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)

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

Barbara F. Walter, "Why Bad Governance Leads to Repeat Civil War”, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 59, No. 7, 2015, pp. 1242-1272

Examples of potential case study texts:

Ali Allawi, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)

Emile Hokayem, Syria’s Uprising and the Fracturing of the Levant (London: IISS, 2013)

Jess Melvin, The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder (London: Routledge, 2018)

Rajesh Venugopal, Nationalism, Development and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.