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Conflict Studies

SO4253 Conflict Studies (15 ECTS credits)

Lecturer(s): Dr Niall Gilmartin and Dr David Landy

Module Content/Outline:

There is a renewed interest among liberal interventionists and peacemakers in sociology and anthropology. Hitherto, the prevailing emphasis among liberal interventionists has been on ‘good governance’ and state-building as the way to resolve conflict.  The failure of this approach is understood to be due to its ‘lack of anthropological sensitivity’ – hence the renewed interest in sociology/anthropology.

Part one of this module looks at conflict studies from the perspective of how conflicts occur and how they are managed and resolved. The module has a theoretical orientation towards a more holistic approach and understanding of the contested nature of identities in “deeply divided” societies. In doing so, the course content offers students the theoretical and conceptual tools to critique dominant forms of conflict resolution. In particular, we focus on the ‘liberal interventionist’ approach which is premised upon a belief that the existence of ‘good governance’ and a free market economy automatically signifies peace. Drawing upon critical scholarship (class, gender), the module challenges the orthodoxy of such approaches, suggesting that a genuine resolution of conflict requires a major overhaul of dominant Western approaches. While the module draws heavily from the ongoing endeavours for peace and conflict resolution in the North of Ireland, reference will be made to other peace agreements and students are encouraged to review case studies that particularly interest them, making links with other modules and wider reading.

Part two of the module offers a closer look at Israel/Palestine, one of the major conflict zones of our time. Israel/Palestine is a paradigmatic example of a long running conflict, and of a modern state which aims to ensure the ongoing dominance of a particular ethnic group. This part of the module examines both the conflict and the reactions of the various parties, taking a critical look at Israeli and Palestinian responses to the conflict. We also examine international interventions in the conflict – both what has motivated the extraordinary international interest in Israel/Palestine and the effect of this involvement.

The class uses the particular issue of Israel/Palestine to develop an in-depth understanding of a conflict situation, which has general applicability. Key debates that this class engages in is the use of human rights by parties in conflict situations, problems with resistance strategies to oppression, the representation of conflict, and critiques of the role of outside intervention.

Learning Objectives:

On successful completion students will have a critical understanding of:

  • Understand the knowledge claims about conflict, culture, identity, race and ethnicity that underpin Western liberal approaches to the management of difference and conflict;
  • Parse some of the main critiques of  liberal intervention
  • Distinguish different kinds of power, their role in government and relationship to knowledge;
  • Reflect on the relationship between one’s social position and knowledge production;
  • Relate these specific instances of conflict to wider theoretical understandings within race and conflict studies;
  • Understand the main issues involved in the Israel/Palestine conflict
  • Theorise the roles of normalisation and resistance within conflicts;
  • Critically analyse the role of external involvement and the ‘peace industry’ within a conflict zone;
  • Understand the reasons behind the globalisation of these conflicts and relate this to other conflicts.

Lectures & Tutorials/ Contact hours:

One lecture and one tutorial per week.

Workload: Lectures: 22 hrs; Tutorials: 22 hrs; Exams/assignments: 22 hrs; Self-study: 284 hrs. Total: 350 hours.


Recommended Texts/ Key Reading:

  • Brewer, J.D. (2010) Peace Processes: A Sociological Approach, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Finlay A. (2010) Governing Ethnic Conflict, Consociation, Identity and the Price of Peace, London: Routledge.
  • Lentin, R. (ed.) (2008)  Thinking Palestine. London: Zed.
  • Makdisi, S. (2008) Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Milton-Edwards, B. (2009) The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A People's War. London: Routledge.


Part I: Reflective journal (50%)
Part II: Exam (50%)

Dates for submission: Reflective journal December 2015.

Penalties for late submission: Without an authorised extension, the mark given will be lowered by one grade

Examination: 1 x 3-hour end-of-year examination