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Researching Authoritarianism: the Politics of Conflict, Violence, and Genocide


Admission requirements

Admission to the Master International Relations. Other students who are interested in this course, please contact the co-ordinator of studies.


Throughout human history, authoritarian regimes have formed the dominant system of government. While the twentieth century saw the rise of democracy, it also witnessed the development of new forms of authoritarianism. What’s more, only a few dictators, such as Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot have presided over a large part of the unprecedented human tragedy of the twentieth century. Even today, authoritarian regimes commonly dictate the news: think of Putin’s intervention in the Ukraine; the Saudi-Egyptian intervention in Yemen; or China’s emergence as a great power.

This course builds upon recent research advances, which have demonstrated a strong link between authoritarian politics and mass political violence, such as war, civil, war and genocide. Consequently, this course will examine the workings of authoritarian politics with a focus on authoritarian regime type, controlling populations, elite pillars of support, elite competition. It will then relate the particulars of authoritarian politics with various types of mass political violence – e.g., war, civil, war and genocide.

In-class instruction will aim not to regurgitate the content of readings, but expand upon them by bringing in current research and data. Students will engage with state of the art theoretical arguments of authoritarian politics, conflict and violence. Moreover, students will conduct supervised research. Research assignments will have students collect and analyze data on purges, elite rivalry and consolidation. The research project will culminate in a research paper that aims to make a contribution authoritarian rivalry to mass political violence – e.g., war, civil, war and genocide or other high-impact topics of International Relations.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Recognize and classify authoritarian regimes;
  • Reflect on the differences and commonalities of authoritarian regime types;
  • Reflect on the complex nature of the authoritarian environment, its politics, and the role of state and non-state actors therein;
  • Explain the violent nature of authoritarian regimes;
  • Explain the particular relationship between authoritarian politics and mass political violence, such as war, civil war and genocide;
  • Conduct supervised research on authoritarian politics and violence.


See the website

Mode of instruction

Lecture, seminar style discussion and supervised research.

Course Load

  • 24 Hours of classes (attendance is compulsory)

  • 72 hours of close reading (6 hours per week over 12 weeks)

  • 40 hours for research assignments

  • 10 hours for research proposal.

  • 100 hours for research paper.

  • 34 hours for regulative activities; meeting with fellow students and teacher; and hours surrounding classes.

Total course load for this 10 EC course is 10 × 28 hours = 280 hours.

Assessment method

  • Prepare the pre-assigned readings prior to each class, and participate fully in the discussions. You should bring the readings to class;

  • Submit research assignments related to the study of authoritarain politics and mass political violence;

  • Submit a proposal for a research paper, which contains: research question or hypothesis; a outline, and a preliminary bibliography;

  • Submit a research paper that aims to contribute to knowledge with respect to authoritarain politics and mass political violence.
    The research paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The resit is only available to students whose mark of the final examined element is insufficient.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for this course. Please enroll in blackboard after your enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

To be announced


Via uSis.


Dr. E. van der Maat