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Peaceful and Violent Strategies to Secession and Independent Statehood



This course is designed to introduce students to strategies that different self-determination movements use in achieving their goals. These goals being either autonomy or fully-fledged independent state. Since 1945 there have been, on average, more than 50 secessionist movements in every single passing year. What strategies have they used and continue to use? Are peaceful or violent strategies more likely to succeed in achieving secession and independent statehood (including de facto ones)? When do peaceful and alternatively violent strategies work? In this course, we tackle these questions by critically engaging with existing literature while paying due consideration to some typical empirical examples. We “travel” from cases that have achieved their self-determination goals during the decolonization process to those that stubbornly continue to challenge the existing states’ territorial integrity – including those in the wider European continent. We start with an introduction to key concepts regarding secession, self-determination, sovereignty, violence, and peace. We then move to consider different sides of the debate by problematizing existing theoretical claims on the questions of self-determination movements’ peaceful and violent strategies. The involvement of external actors in various people’s attempts to achieve their self-determination goals often is crucial. We therefore also learn about the involvement of external state and non-state actors in either helping or inhibiting ongoing self- determination movements.

Course objectives

Students who complete this course will be able to:

  • Have a thorough understanding of historical and contemporary secessionist and self-determination movements;

  • Understand and critically analyze the aims, goals, and strategies that different groups of people attempt, and have attempted, to use in promoting their self-determination claims and establishing their states;

  • Have a solid foundation for future empirical analysis and research in the broad areas of secession, self-determination, sovereignty, and statehood.

Mode of instruction

The course will be conducted in a seminar form. Most of the thematic sessions will kick off with individual short student presentations based on her/his short response note to the assigned readings. Other students are expected to likewise engage with their insights on and questions about the assigned readings. Depending on the theme of the session and students’ discussions and questions, the instructor will respond, engage, and add thoughts and analyses from broader literature. There will be an opportunity for in-class group-work amongst students.

Assessment method

Students will be assessed in both their written and verbal understanding of different themes of the course as follows:

  • Participation: 20%

  • Short reaction note to the assigned readings accompanied by short verbal reactions: 15%*

  • Case study presentation: 25%

  • Final written paper: 40%

*The reaction notes serve as a basis for in-class discussion. The number of reaction notes that each student will have to submit depends on the number of students that sign up for the course. Nonetheless, the total amount of words for the entire course per student on this particular assignment shall not exceed 1,500 words.

Reading list

The following is the list of background texts which students can choose and are encouraged to consult. Select chapters from these texts will be used in a structured way throughout the course.

Gallagher Cunningham, Kathleen. 2014. Inside the Politics of Self-Determination.

Griffiths, Ryan D. 2016. Age of Secession: The International and Domestic Determinants of State Birth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pavković, Aleksandar, and Peter Radan. 2007. Creating New States: Theory and Practice of Secession. Hampshire: Ashgate.

Raič, David. 2002. Statehood and the Law of Self-Determination. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

Roeder, Philip G. 2018. National Secession: Persuasion and Violence in Independence Campaigns. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Walter, Barbara F. 2009. Reputation and Civil War Why Separatist Conflicts Are so Violent. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A detailed list of obligatory and recommended readings for each session will be provided with the syllabus. The latter will be distributed to students before the course commences.


See 'Practical Information'