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Civil Wars


Credits: 4 ECTS

First semester

Elective Courses




Since the end of the Cold War, the large majority of armed conflicts in the world are intrastate wars. Every day we see on the news reports from the civil wars in Syria, Afghanistan or Libya. The goal of this course is to understand the causes of civil wars, their dynamics and their consequences.

The structure of the course follows roughly a conflict cycle. In the first part of the course we will look at social, economic and political motives for the outbreak of civil wars. Are ethnically diverse countries more prone to civil wars? Why are poor countries more likely to experience civil wars? Is the outbreak of a civil war more likely in fragile democracies or in authoritarian states? These are some of the questions we will tackle.

The second part of the course looks at the dynamics during a civil war. We will explore how people get mobilized and why they take the decision to join an armed group. Then, we will explore why civilians are targeted in civil wars and why some armed groups are much more violent than others. In many civil wars, rebels control parts of the state’s territory. We will study what is going on in these places and what determines how rebels govern them. In the final session of this part will look at the role of external actors in conflict dynamics.

Finally, in the third part of the course we will look at the termination of civil wars and their legacy. First, we will study what factors explain their duration. Then, we will discuss peace agreements and post-conflict settlements. The second last session will look at the political, social and economic legacies of civil wars. The course will conclude with a simulation in which the students will take different roles in a civil war scenario.


The final grade will be determined by a number of elements.

Graded Elements:

  • Term Paper: The students will be asked to write a paper of 3,000 words (plus or minus 10 percent leeway) about a topic of their choice (within the scope of the course). The deadline for this term paper is at the end of the classes. If they want to improve their grade (up to one point), they can meet with the professor, integrate his feedback and submit a revised version until the end of the exam week. (50% of the final grade). 

    In order to support the writing-process of the term paper, students are expected to submit before seminar 8 a paper with approximately 250 words. In this midterm paper, the students are supposed to explain the chosen topic of their final paper. This structure will allow the instructor to give some feedback along the way.
  • Presentation: During the course, each student will give an oral presentation in one of the classes in which he/she discusses a research question about an empirical case related to the session’s topic or an academic article (10-12 minutes). The final syllabus will propose two possible questions for each session, but students can also suggest their own topics. The topic has to be approved in written form by the professor until, ultimately, two weeks before the talk. (20% of the final grade).
  • Class participation: Students are required to attend class and to read the provided readings. During class, the mandatory literature will only be briefly discussed to have more time for discussions and other interactive elements (10% of the final grade).
  • Tasks before/ in class: During the different sessions we will do different interactive elements (group works, quizzes etc.) They will add up to 15% of the final grade.
  • Simulation: In the final class, the students will simulate in groups a civil war situation. The students are expected to write before the session as a group a brief text in which they describe their strategy (approximately 500 words). (5% of the final grade).

All papers have to be submitted on the Virtual Campus.

For the sake of fairness, there will be a penalty for submitting a paper after the deadline. For every day delay, 0.5 point will be subtracted from the grade.

Competences, learning outcomes and teaching activities (PDF)