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Conflict & Democracy




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 100-level and 200-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


This course explores the relationship between conflict and democracy in post-conflict and deeply divided societies. The challenges of building democratic institutions in failed states and facilitating transitions from autocracy to democracy have been at the forefront of the foreign policy and development agendas of many states, international organisations and NGOs. Democratic governance is argued by many to be a good in itself, a human right, but also to be instrumental in sustaining a healthy polity. Advocates claim that democracy encourages economic growth, promotes accountable political leadership responsible to the needs of the population, and makes it less likely that disputes within and between states will escalate into armed conflict.

However, the events of the Arab Awakening should remind us of how difficult it is to design and establish democratic institutions in societies characterised by significant ideological, ethnic and religious difference. One challenge is how best to support the preconditions of a stable democratic culture, such as a functioning economy and robust civil society. This course, however, focuses on a second challenge: that of designing and establishing political institutions able to foster peaceful cooperation among ethnic and religious groups.

We begin by exploring the link between democratic governance and peacebuilding – are they compatible, or does democratisation increase the risk of instability in post-conflict societies? The course then moves on to look at different conceptions and institutional forms of democracy, asking what kind of democratic institutions are most suitable for divided societies. Does power sharing aid the consolidation of democracy? What effect do electoral rules have on the representation of different groups within the system? Is parliamentary government more stable than presidential government? Will decentralising power encourage minority groups to secede from the state? After exploring the theoretical issues, we will examine case studies of democratic transition drawn from the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, asking how, and to what extent, the design of political institutions contributed to the success or failure of those transitions.

Course Objectives

This module aims to provide a critical exploration of key issues and challenges related to democratisation in deeply divided and post-conflict societies. By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a firm understanding of the challenges of democratisation and democratic governance in post-conflict and divided societies.

  • Display knowledge of major concepts and theories of democracy in divided societies, and their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Demonstrate the ability to apply theoretical and conceptual tools in the analysis of empirical cases.

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills; develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts and approaches and lead class discussions.

Mode of Instruction

The course is taught through two-hour seminars. Students will be expected to participate in both large and small group discussions, and present and defend their ideas within an academic setting. The instructor will facilitate and ensure the efficient running of the discussion, but students are responsible for shaping its direction. Each seminar has a ‘required reading’ list that must be read in advance of each seminar. Students are also recommended to read some of the items listed under ‘suggested reading’ prior to each seminar and use the extended list as a starting point in their preparation for essay writing.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

Interactive engagement with course material will be assessed through seminar participation (15% of final grade). Ongoing, weeks 1 – 7.

Understanding of course content will be assessed through individual presentations (15% of final grade). Weeks 2-7.

Individual engagement with course readings: assessed through a short discussion paper that provides the basis for the individual presentation (2,000 words; 30% of final grade): Weeks 3-7.

Expression of holistic understanding of the course: assessed through individual research project (3,000 words; 40% of final grade): due Week 8.


The following books cover the major themes of the course:

Norris, Pippa, Driving Democracy: Do Power Sharing Institutions Work? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Roeder, Philip G. and Donald Rothchild (eds), Sustainable Peace: Power and Democracy after Civil Wars (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005).

Other readings will be drawn from a variety of sources and provided on Blackboard.

Contact Information

Dr. Edmund Frettingham:

Weekly Overview

1 Introduction
2 What is democracy? What is conflict?
3 Democratisation as peacebuilding?
4 Case Studies: Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique
5 No seminar (Easter Monday)
6 What is power sharing? Theory and critique of consociationalism.
7 Electoral systems and divided societies
8 Executive institutions and divided societies
9 No seminar (Liberation Day)
10 Unitary versus federal institutions
11 Case Studies: Sub Saharan Africa
12 Case Studies: South Asia
13 Case Studies: Middle East
14 Conclusion

Preparation for first session