Dynamics of Armed Conflict

Please note: This page refers to a course that has already taken place.

07 - 11 May 2018

PRIO, Hausmanns gate 3, Oslo

Jeffrey T. Checkel, jtcheckel@sfu.ca


Marte Nilsen, marnil@prio.org

Professor Jeffrey T. Checkel, Simon Fraser University (jtcheckel@sfu.ca)
Professor Scott Gates, University of Oslo and PRIO (scott.gates@stv.uio.no).

​This course provides an overview and critical assessment of contemporary research on armed conflict.  It will be in equal measure backward looking, assessing the state of the art and what have we learned; and future oriented, exploring cutting-edge issues and challenges.  

The course is organized in collaboration between PRIO and UiO 7-11 May (no class on 10 May).

The course registration is now closed.

Course Description:

The first part of the course (sessions I - III) assesses what we now know about civil wars and armed conflicts – why they break out, how they are sustained, how do they end – and how to think – conceptually, theoretically and methodologically - about dynamics and process.  The second part (sessions IV, VI - VIII) builds on the first to explore the cutting edge and where next questions; our focus here will be work seeking to capture the dynamics of conflict.  Among other issues, we will consider the roles of transnationalism; of bureaucracies, groups and organizations; of social processes; and insurgency-counterinsurgency dynamics in driving forward or constraining the evolution of civil wars and other armed conflicts.

Reflecting the research interests of the instructors, the course will be plural in meta-theoretical (positivist, post-positivist), theoretical (political economy, political ethnography, sociological, constructivist, political psychology) and methodological terms (game theory, agent-based modelling, process tracing, case studies, interpretive approaches).


Day #1: Monday, 7 May

Session I (0900 - 1200): Civil War Research – State of the Art & Where Next

Sambanis, Nicholas, "Using Case Studies to Expand Economic Models of Civil War," Perspectives on Politics 2/2 (2004): 257-79.

Tarrow, Sidney, "Inside Insurgencies: Politics and Violence in an Age of Civil War (Book Review Essay)," Perspectives on Politics 5/3 (2007): 587-600.

Blattman, Christopher and Edward Miguel, "Civil War," Journal of Economic Literature 48/1 (2010): 3-57.

Blattman, Christopher, "Children and War: How 'Soft' Research Can Answer the Hard Questions in Political Science," Perspectives on Politics 10/2 (2012): 403-413.

Cederman, Lars-Erik, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch and Halvard Buhaug, Inequality, Grievances and Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapters 1, 3, 4, 6, 9.

Session II (1315 - 1630): Capturing Dynamics and Process – Causal Mechanisms

Johnson, James, "Consequences of Positivism: A Pragmatist Assessment," Comparative Political Studies 39/2 (2006): 224-52.

Gerring, John, "Review Article: The Mechanismic Worldview – Thinking Inside the Box," British Journal of Political Science 38/1 (2007): 161-79.

Bennett, Andrew and Jeffrey T. Checkel, Editors, Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), Chapters 1, 7, 10.

Day #2: Tuesday, 8 May

Session III (0900 - 1200): Capturing Dynamics and Process – Modelling Causal Processes

Axelrod, Robert, The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition (NY: Basic Books, 2006), Chapters 1-4, 6, 7, 9.

Smith, J. Maynard, "Evolution and the Theory of Games: In Situations Characterized by Conflict of Interest, the Best Strategy to Adopt Depends on What Others Are Doing," American Scientist 64/1 (1976): 41-45.

Epstein, Joshua M., "Modeling Civil Violence: An Agent-Based Computational Approach," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 99/10 Supplement 3 (2002): 7243-7250.

Bhavnani, Ravi and Dan Miodownik, "Ethnic Polarization, Ethnic Salience, and Civil War," Journal of Conflict Resolution 53/1 (2009): 30-49.

Session IV (1315 - 1630): Transnationalism and Civil War

The Baseline

Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede and Idean Salehyan, "Refugees and the Spread of Civil War," International Organization 60/2 (2006): 335-66.

Cederman, Lars-Erik, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch and Halvard Buhaug, Inequality, Grievances and Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 6 (REVIEW).

Adding Dynamics and Process

Checkel, Jeffrey T., Editor, Transnational Dynamics of Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), chapters 1-3, 6-7.

Simmons, Beth and Hyeran Jo, "Can the International Criminal Court Deter Atrocity?" International Organization 70/3 (2016): 443-475.

Day #3: Wednesday, 9 May

Session V (0900 - 1100): Individual Meetings on Course Essays

Session VI (1100 - 1200, 1315 - 1630): The Organizational Basis of Rebellion

The Baseline

Humphreys, Macartan and Jeremy M. Weinstein, "Who Fights? The Determinants of Participation in Civil War," American Journal of Political Science 52/2 (2008): 436-455.

Andvig, Jens Christopher and Scott Gates, "Recruiting Children for Armed Conflict," in Scott Gates and Simon Reich, Editors, Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), pp.77-92.

Adding Dynamics and Process

Beber, Bernd and Christopher Blattman, "The Logic of Child Soldiering and Coercion," International Organization 67/1 (2013): 65-104.

Gates, Scott, "Membership Matters: Coerced Recruits and Rebel Allegiance," Journal of Peace Research 54/5 (2017): 674–686.

Manekin, Devorah, "The Limits of Socialization and the Underproduction of Military Violence: Evidence from the IDF," Journal of Peace Research 54/5 (2017): 606–619.

Day #4: Thursday, 10 May

No Class – Public Holiday in Norway

Day #5: Friday, 11 May

Session VII (0900 - 1200): Social Context of Civil War

The Baseline

Kalyvas, Stathis, "Ethnic Defection in Civil War," Comparative Political Studies 41/8 (2008): 1043-1068.

Østby, Gudrun, "Inequality and Political Violence: A Review of the Literature," International Area Studies Review 16/2 (2013): 206-231.

Adding Dynamics and Process

Wood, Elisabeth Jean, "The Social Processes of Civil War: The Wartime Transformation of Social Networks," Annual Review of Political Science 11 (2008): 539–61.

Checkel, Jeffrey T., "Socialization and Violence: Introduction and Framework," Journal of Peace Research 54/5 (2017): 592–605.

Bateson, Regina, "The Socialization of Civilians and Militia Members: Evidence from Guatemala," Journal of Peace Research 54/5 (2017): 634–647.

Fujii, Lee Ann, "'Talk of the Town': Explaining Pathways to Participation in Violent Display," Journal of Peace Research 54/5 (2017): 661–673.

Session VIII (1315 - 1600): Insurgency-Counterinsurgency Dynamics

The Baseline

Kalyvas, Stathis and Laia Balcells, "International System and Technologies of Rebellion: How the End of the Cold War Shaped Internal Conflict,' American Political Science Review 104/3 (2010): 415-429.

Buhaug, Halvard, Scott Gates and Päivi Lujala, "Geography, Rebel Capability, and the Duration of Civil Conflict," Journal of Conflict Resolution 53/4 (2009): 544-569.

Adding Dynamics and Process

Bennett, D. Scott, "Governments, Civilians, and the Evolution of Insurgency: Modeling the Early Dynamics of Insurgencies," Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 11/4 (2008): 7. (http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/11/4/7.html)

Autesserre, Severine, "Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence and International Intervention," International Organization 63/2 (2009): 249-80.

Findley, Michael and Peter Rudloff, "Combatant Fragmentation and the Dynamics of Civil Wars," British Journal of Political Science 42/4 (2012): 879-901.


Deadline for applications: 2 March 2018.

Submission of course essay: TBA.


Active Participation in Class Discussions: The course will be run as a seminar, where debate and discussion are the norm; for each session, written discussion questions will serve as our starting point.  For this format to be successful, students need to read the seminar readings prior to our first meeting on 7 May.

Preparation of Discussion Points: For each class session, students are required to prepare a brief list of discussion questions and comments (3-5 in number); these should be based on the readings and will be distributed to all other seminar participants.  (Please make sufficient copies for distribution!)  Your questions/comments should reflect a critical assessment of those readings. What are their strong and weak points? What are their meta-theoretical, theoretical, methodological, empirical contributions?  How do they relate to or build upon other readings or discussions?

Completion of an Analytic Essay: Students have two options.  (I) Prepare an analytic review on a topic that is of special interest and is consistent with the course's purpose and theme.  Or (II), prepare a draft research design for a PhD project on armed conflict where dynamics play some role.  In either case, essays should be 6000-10000 words and are due by 15 August 2018.  On the first day of class – 7 May - students should provide the instructors with a 2-3 page introduction to their proposed essay.  These overviews will then be discussed at one-on-one meetings on the morning of Wednesday, 9 May, 0900 - 1100, when there will be no formal class sessions.


The deadline for applications is 2 March 2018. Please fill in the electronic application form here. PhD candidates should specify the topic of their project under 'Research interests.' PhD candidates get priority, but others with graduate studies from a relevant discipline may also apply.  There is no participation fee, but the cost of transportation and accommodation must be covered by the participants. A limited number of stipends to cover basic accommodation at the neighboring Anker Hotel are available for PhD students who do not have funding through their universities or otherwise. If relevant, check the 'accommodation stipend' box on the application form.

If needed to make the necessary travel arrangements, PhD candidates who apply prior to the deadline may request an early evaluation of their application in an e-mail to Marte Nilsen (marnil@prio.org). Please mark the e-mail [Dynamics of Armed Conflict - Early Evaluation].

Course Literature:

The following three books – all available in paperback - should be purchased.

  • Axelrod, Robert. The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

  • Cederman, Lars-Erik, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and Halvard Buhaug. Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
  • Checkel, Jeffrey T., Editor, Transnational Dynamics of Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
An overview of other assigned articles and chapters are found in the course syllabus and class schedule.

Students should access most of these articles and chapters through their local libraries.  A selection of hard-to-get readings will be made available by mid-April, via a shared Dropbox folder.