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Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict


Credits: 3 ECTS

First semester

Elective Courses



Nationalism—pronounced dead already by many commentators, whether by Marxists, neoliberals, and cosmopolitans—continues to exert major influence, even in a world characterized by expanding transnational connections, global-local interactions, and an ever increasing global flow of goods, people, and ideas. In fact, contemporary world society remains profoundly nationalized. National states, whose legitimacy derives from the nationalist principle of self rule, continue to be the dominant form of political organization and cultural identification around the globe. Almost in a mirror image, state-challenging forces, whether secessionist parties or ethnic autonomy movements, contest dominant understandings of nationhood and often advance their own alternative understandings of national identity. And many, if not most of the current ethnic conflicts, ranging from Israel/Palestine to East Timor to Kashmir, are to an important extent motivated by struggles over the boundaries of national inclusion.

This course is about the rise and resilience of nationalism, and its role in conflict and war, but also in other fields, including economic development and public goods provision. Accordingly, the course will explore contrasting perspectives on why nationalism proliferated around the globe and how it became institutionalized as a dominant source of political organization, collective identification, and ethnic exclusion. We will also explore how these processes relate to globalization, that is, the increasing economic, cultural, and normative integration of the world. Building on these insights, the course reviews different approaches that link nationalism to war and explore different theoretical arguments about the origins and contours of ethnic conflict across a variety of contexts. Another focal point are possible implications of nationalism and ethnic conflict for state building, but also for trajectories of economic and social development.


Class Attendance and Readings. The course puts a strong emphasis on active student participation. This course will use about half of each week’s time for lectures to situate the weekly readings within the broader context of the course and clarify concepts and arguments. The second half of each class will be dedicated to classroom discussion and work in smaller groups (pending on enrollment size). The content of the lectures and the structure of the discussions presume that you have done the readings assigned for that week carefully. It is therefore essential that you come prepared to every class in order to make our conversations lively, provocative, interesting and fun. Class attendance is required and participation will count for 10% of your final grade.

In-Class Presentation (Group Work). From Session 2 onwards teams of several students will lead on the discussion in the second half of the class. Each team is in charge of briefly synthesizing and commenting on the assigned readings for that session. (Though you can assume that the rest of the class did the required readings.) The presentation should also raise questions you would like to discuss in class. Your presentation should be a sharp and concise 15-minute presentation on the readings at hand. Teams are chosen randomly by the instructor in Session 1, and this assignment will count for 20% of your final grade.

Two Comment Papers (Individual Work). For two of the nine sessions (excluding Session 1 and Session 9, and not for the session you are doing the in-class presentation) students will write a brief comment paper on the assigned readings for that session. Each comment paper will have a maximum of 500 words. The first part of the comment may provide a very brief (comparative) summary of the main argument(s) encountered, whereas the second part may provide a critical evaluation of the text(s) under consideration. This assignment will count for 20% of your final grade (10% for each comment paper). Comment papers are due at least 24 hours before the relevant session (e.g., Thursdays at 14 hrs. Late submissions will not be accepted).

Final Paper (Individual Work). A research paper (double-spaced, 2000-2500 words, excluding bibliography) that makes a succinct and well-researched argument about a topic related to nationalism and ethnic conflict. The final paper will count 40% of the final grade. It is due on December 23, 2016 via email (mvomhau@ibei.org).

Build-up to Final Paper (Individual Work). In order to facilitate the writing of the final paper and allow the incorporation feedback along the way, students will submit a discussion of their topic/case (two paragraphs) and brief bibliography of existing literature in Session 6 (November 18). This assignment will count 10% of the final grade.


  • Class participation 10%
  • In-class presentation 20%
  • Two comment papers 20% (10% each)
  • Build-up to final paper 10%
  • Final paper 40%