​The Dynamics of Civil War

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

12 - 15 May 2014

PRIO, Hausmanns gate 7, Oslo

Kristoffer Lidén



Professor Jeffrey T. Checkel, Simon Fraser University (jtcheckel@sfu.ca), and Professor Scott Gates, PRIO and Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) (scott@prio.no).

This seminar provides an overview and critical assessment of contemporary research on civil conflict.  It will be in equal measure backward looking – assessing the state of the art; what have we learned – and future oriented – what are the cutting edge issues and challenges for students of civil war.   

The course in organized in collaboration between NTNU and PRIO.

Course Description:

 The first part of the course (sessions I - III) assesses what we now know about civil wars – 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 new work seeking to capture the dynamics of civil war.  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 such 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 (agent-based modelling, game theory, process tracing, case studies, interpretive approaches).


For the complete syllabus including all readings, see 'Course Literature' or dowload from 'course files'.


Day #1: Monday, 12 May
09.00 – 12.00 Session I: Civil War Research – State of the Art & Where Next
12.00 – 13.15 Lunch
13.15 – 16.30 Session II: Capturing Dynamics and Process – Causal Mechanisms
Day #2: Tuesday, 13 May
09.00 – 12.00 Session III: Capturing Dynamics and Process – Modelling Causal
12.00 - 13.15 Lunch
13.15 - 16.30 Session IV: Transnationalism and Civil War

Day #3: Wednesday, 14 May
09.00 – 11.00 Session V: Individual Meetings on Course Essays
11.00 – 12.00 Session VI: The Organizational Basis of Rebellion
12.00 – 13.15 Lunch
13.15 - 16.30 Session VI: The Organizational Basis of Rebellion

Day #4: Thursday, 15 May
09.00 – 12.00 Session VII: Social Context of Civil War
12.00 - 13.15 Lunch
13.15 – 16.30 Session VIII: Insurgency-Counterinsurgency Dynamics


Deadline for applications: 31 March

Submission of course essay: 15 August


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 12 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 civil war where dynamics play some role.  In either case, essays should be 6000-10000 words and are due by 15 August 2014.  On the first day of class – Monday, 12 May - students should provide the instructors with a 2-3 pp. introduction to their proposed essay.  These overviews will then be discussed at one-on-one meetings on the morning of Wednesday, 14 May, 0900-1100, when there will be no formal class sessions.


​The deadline for applications is 31 March 2014. Applications should be brief, and include details about university affiliation, education and a paragraph on current research (e.g. a PhD project). PhD candidates get priority, but others may also apply. Current members of the Resarch School on Peace and Conflict simply register. Please send applications by e-mail to Research School Coordinator Kristoffer Lidén: kristoffer@prio.no. There is no participation fee, but the cost of transportation and accommodation must be covered by the participants. Six stipends to cover basic accommodation at neighbouring Anker Hotel are available for PhD students who do not have funding for such course participation through their universities. Then you add a sentence on this in your application. Applicants will be notified about the outcome of their application as quickly as possible after the deadline.

Course Literature:

Readings: The following four 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).
  • Reno, William. Warfare in Independent Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

 Students should access most other assigned articles and chapters through their local libraries.  A selection of hard-to-get readings (unpublished or forthcoming essays) will be made available on the course web-page by mid-April.


Day #1: Monday, 12 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, 2014), Chapters 1, 7, 10.


Day #2: Tuesday, 13 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.

Brehm, John, and Scott Gates, "Adapting Preferences," in John Brehm and Scott Gates, Teaching, Tasks, and Trust: Functions of the Public Executive (NY: Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2008), pp. 42-60.


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, 9.


Day #3: Wednesday, 14 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

 Gates, Scott, "Recruitment and Allegiance: The Microfoundations of Rebellion," Journal of Conflict Resolution 46/1 (2002): 111-30.

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

 Gates, Scott, "Why Do Children Fight? Motivations and the Mode of Recruitment," in Alpaslam Özerdem and Sukanya Podder, Editors, Child Soldiers: From Recruitment to Reintegration (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp.29-49.

 Hoover Green, Amelia, "Learning Restraint: The Role of Political Education in Armed Group Behavior toward Civilians," Simons Papers in Security and Development, No.30 (Vancouver: School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, December 2013).

 Gates, Scott and Ragnhild Nordås, "Recruitment, Retention, and Religion in Rebel Groups," Simons Papers in Security and Development, No.32 (Vancouver: School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, January 2014).


Day #4: Thursday, 15 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.

 Bhavnani, Ravi, Dan Miodownik, and Jonas Nart, "REsCape: An Agent-Based Framework for Modeling Resources, Ethnicity, and Conflict," The Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 11/2 (2008).

 Checkel, Jeffrey T., "Socialization and Organized Political Violence: Theoretical Tools and Challenges," No.28 (Vancouver: School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, November 2013).

 Cohen, Dara Kay, "Female Combatants and the Perpetration of Violence: Wartime Rape in the Sierra Leone Civil War," World Politics 65/3 (2013): 383-415.

 Parkinson, Sarah Elizabeth, "Organizing Rebellion: Rethinking High-Risk Mobilization and Social Networks in War," American Political Science Review 107/3 (2013): 418-32.


Session VIII (1315 - 1630): 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

 Gates, Scott and Jason Miklian, "Strategic Revolutionary Phases of the Maoist Insurgency in Nepal," in Kaushik Roy, Editor, Insurgencies in South Asia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

 Reno, William, Warfare in Independent Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), Chapters 1, 2, 5, 6, Conclusion.

 Mehlum, Halvor and Karl Moene, "Fighting against the Odds," Economics of Governance 7/1 (2006): 75-87.

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