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Thesis Seminar: Nations, States, Empires, and the Rest



Objective: Over 2 blocks, students prepare their research proposal and write their master thesis.

Content: The main theme of this thesis seminar is (ethnic, religious, national) conflict and conflict resolution – especially in multinational contexts when the ‘nation’ and ‘state’ do not correspond. The Westphalian nation-state, however, has remained the unit that constitutes the international system. From Kosova to Cyprus, most current conflicts around the world reflect this tension. The thesis seminar aims to bring together various theoretical and historical perspectives on the nation-state, i.e. the unit of the international system, and the accompanying lines of conflict – past and present.

While emphasis remains on ethnic conflict and conflict management, the scope of the thesis seminar will cover three general themes:

1) The Westphalian system of nation-states, the emergence and maintenance of this system, sovereignty, conflict management (federalism, consociational democracy, non-territorical group rights, hegemony), the role of international law and arbitration in conflict resolution, international recognition of new states, and the accompanying links between domestic and international factors.

Core reading: Henrik Spruyt (1996), The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change, Princeton University Press.

2) Conflicts that reflect deviations from the Westphalian nation-state ideal including multination states (e.g. Belgium, Canada), nations that span across various states (e.g. Albanians across Albania proper, Kosova, and Macedonia), stateless nations (e.g. Kurds spread across Turkey, Iran and Iraq), minority nations (Quebec, Catalonia), and the accompanying potential lines of conflict.

Core Reading: Jan Erk and Lawrence Anderson (eds), The Paradox of Federalism: Does Self-Rule Accommodate or Exacerbate Ethnic Divisions?, London: Routledge.

3) The third theme covers units of the international system above the nation-state, such as empires (e.g. the multinational Ottoman and the Soviet empires and their legacies impacting current conflicts), confederations (e.g. the Hanseatic city league and its internal and external lines of conflict), and colonialism (e.g. colonies of the British Empire and the potential for conflict colonial rule has left behind).

Core Reading: Lauren Benton (2010), A Search For Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, Cambridge university Press.

The seminar is open to all theoretical and methodological approaches. The first part of the seminar will be devoted to questions of research design. Students are therefore advised to purchase the volume below and start working during the reading break in January.

Bon Hancke (2009), Intelligent Research Design for Beginning Researchers in the Social Sciences, London: Oxford University Press.

Methods of Instruction

Lectures and working groups (block 3), individual meetings (block 4)


The final grade will be based on the thesis.


Monday 6 Feb. till 28 May, 15.00 – 17.00 hrs., in SA21 (except 20 Feb. 1A03, 5 March 0A33 9 Apr Easter Monday, 30 Apr Queensday, 7 May 5A42 and 28 May Pinksteren) and
Thursday 9 Feb. till 31 May, 13.00 – 15.00 hrs., in 1A15 (except 9, 16 Feb and 1 March SA21, 22, 29 March and 5 Apr. 5B02, 12 and 19 Apr. 0A33, 26 Apr, 3 and 10 May 5A41, 17 May Hemelvaartsdag)