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Nation-building and Resistance


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations, track International Studies. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to the mentioned master programmes are requested to contact the co-ordinator of studies.


Politicians and policymakers would be considered remiss if they sent soldiers into combat without the means to prevail; yet they have frequently launched wars in which success depended on a transformation of a non-Western state’s institutions, society, or culture that was simply not possible with the means at hand, or any plausible means available. Where did this idea of “nation-building” – intervention in a foreign country and an attempt to guide its development and politics – come from? What was the nature of the resistance it sparked across the globe? And with the outcome of Western campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan so desultory and uncertain, does nation-building have a future?
Students on this course will examine these questions in two ways. First, they will look at nation-building from the perspective of the various actors involved in it. They will consider it not only from the perspective of the primarily Western policymakers who order these interventions and the soldiers and civilians they send to execute them, but also from the perspective of the people, government and resistance movements in the country where nation-building operations take place. We will also examine the ways that publics both in the West and elsewhere perceive narratives of nation-building through cultural products such as films and literature.
Secondly, students will consider a range of case studies of nation-building throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Although the term “nation-building” is of relatively recent vintage, we will explore how it fits into the broader stream of imperial history and counterinsurgency warfare. Case studies students will consider will include the U.S. in Iraq and Vietnam, Russia in Ukraine and Afghanistan, and United Nations-led interventions in the 1990s. In their final paper they will have the opportunity to explore a case study of their choice in depth.

Course Objectives

Students will:
1. Gain a competent understanding of key theoretical approaches to the concept of nation-building;
2. Gain an understanding of how nation-building looks in practice from the perspective of various, especially non-Western, actors;
3. Understand how our contemporary concept of nation-building fits into the broader stream of imperial history;
4. Understand the place of nation-building in contemporary warfare, both from the perspective of the West and resistance movements;
5. Finally, be able to synthesize their knowledge into insightful analyses of case studies.


The timetable is available on the website.

Mode of instruction

Two-hour seminars

Attedance at seminars is obligatory. Classes missed for good reason will be made up for with extra assignments. Absences must be discussed with the instructor BEFORE the class takes place.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280hrs

  • Lectures/seminars: 24 hours (attendance is compulsory)

  • Study of compulsory literature: 120 hours of reading (10 hours per week over 12 weeks)

  • Writing critical review: 24 hours

  • Preparing briefing: 30 hours

  • Research and writing final essay (max 4,000 words): 82 hours

Students may approach the professor of the course to discuss their final essay prior to submission.

Assessment Method

Assessment takes four forms:

  • Class attendance and participation, 20%

  • Critical review, 15%

  • Oral briefing, 15%

  • Final essay, 50%


The final mark for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with additional requirements:

The final essay will only be graded if attendance at the seminars has been satisfactory, as determined by the instructor.


The resit is only available for students whose final essay was insufficient.


Communication will be via Blackboard

Reading list

The reading list for the course will be posted on Blackboard before the start of the semester.

These are some illustrative readings to give students an idea of material we will engage with on the course:
James Dobbins et. al., The Beginner’s Guide to Nation-Building (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2007).
Francis Fukuyama, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (New York: Profile, 2005).
Hannah Gurman, Hearts and Minds: A People’s History of Counterinsurgency (New York, NY: New Press, 2013).
James C. Scott, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999).
John Tirman, The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Kurt Jacobsen, Pacification and its Discontents (Cambridge: Prickly Press, 2009).
Troung Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir (New York: Vintage, 1986).


Via uSis.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Contact information

Dhr. Dr. A. Gawthorpe