Understanding violent conflict



“Know the enemy” is a military maxim.  In conflict management and resolution, the enemy is violent conflict.  We learned in Lesson 2 one template for a hasty conflict analysis.   This week, we consider ways of mapping and tracking patterns of violence in time and space, and relating those patterns to causes and correlates that can help us to choose tools for conflict management and resolution under different circumstances.

Learning Objectives

On completing this Lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe post-Second World War patterns of violence
  • Understand theories of conflict causation [UNDESA, 16]
  • Analyse elements of a conflict [UNDESA, 30]
  • Distinguish proximate and underlying causes of conflict [brown]
  • Practice conflict mapping and analysis [UNDESA]
  • Understand the links between gender and violence

Required Reading

Butler, Chapter 3, Empirical trends in armed conflict

Butler, Chapter 4, characteristics of peacekeeping as a form of conflict management

Diehl and Balas, Chapter 2, Historical evolution and record of Peace Operations

Diehl, Tables 3.3 and 3.4 scale and cost of operations

Sjoberg, Laura (2014) Gender, War and Conflict. Cambridge: Polity. “Thinking about gender” Chapter 6, “War(s) as if gender mattered

Central presentation: Understanding Conflict, Tracking Violence

This consists of a PowerPoint presentation with embedded video clips which summarises readings and key concepts for this week.

Weekly activities (before and during class)

  • Describe post-second world war patterns of violence (60s)
  • Describe proximate and underlying causes of violence
  • Debate the role of new wars  (5D, 60s)
  • Discuss the distinguishing characteristics of peacekeeping (5D, 60s)
  • Explore the links between gender and violence, and the utility of gender-based conflict analysis (5D, 60s)

Additional Reading

David Last (2002), Patterns and Sources of Violence

David A. Lake and Donald Rothchild (1996) “Ethnic Fears and Global Engagement: The International Spread and Management of Ethnic Conflict,” Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, January.

Rapoport, David C. (1996) “The Importance of Space in Violent Ethno-Religious Strife,” Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, University of California at San Diego,

Tikuisis, Peter and David Mandel (2015) “Is the World Deteriorating?” Global Governance 21, explores the contradiction between the many empirical measures of a general downward trend in violence, and the shrill warnings of experts in the International Crisis Group. Tikuisis and Mandel explain the contradiction.

UNDESA training manual, 2003.  This 60 page manual for a five-day training course for practitioners, funders, and policy-makers provides tools for conflict analysis.  Some of the tables from the manual are reproduced in the weekly assignment for week 3.

Pinker, S. (2011). The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined. New York: Viking Summary of trends

Tilly, C. (2003) The Politics of Collective Violence, “Political entrepreneurs and violent specialists”

Kaldor, M. (2012) New Wars and Old, third edition. Cambridge: Polity. Chapter 4, “Politics of new wars”


Potts, Malcolm and Thomas Haydon (2008), Sex and War: How Biology explains warfare and terrorism and offers a path to a safer world, Chapter 6 “Women and War, with Martha Campbell” There’s an interesting contrast between this book, written by two men, who have added a female co-autthor for just two chapters (add gender and stir), and Hudson, et al, by three women and a man.

Hudson, Valerie M., Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, ad Chad F. Emmett (2012) Sex and World Peace, Chapter 1, “Roots of national and international relations”

Malesevic, S. (2010) The Sociology of War and Violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 10, “New Wars”

David Last, lastdav(at)gmail.com,  updated December 2016