SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Development and conflict

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

During the twentieth century, armed conflicts destroyed societies and families, tore apart nations and undermined development prospects in many parts of the world. In the years following the end of the Cold War, discourse around conflict shifted towards emphasising internal conflicts, previously side-lined by interstate war. 

These “civil wars” and “interstate conflicts” have affected countries, regions and in some cases have global implications; many of the more devastating conflicts (in terms of their social, economic and human costs) have become protracted and entrenched. In these highly complex conflicts, root causes can evolve and conflict drivers may shift along with internal, regional and global dimensions. Somalia, Sudan & South Sudan, Afghanistan, Palestine/Israel, DR Congo are just some examples. There are also newly emerging complex crises such as in Syria, Yemen and Mali with domestic and international security, political, humanitarian and development implications.

This module will examine Development & Conflict across three broad themes: In considering 

  1. why conflicts emerge, students will be exposed to the discourse as it evolved—identity, ethnicity religion, greed vs. grievance and challenges to these debates, especially in the face of contemporary protracted conflict which do not easily fit into the “causes of conflict” discourses that emerged with the rise of “new wars” in the 1990s. The role of state fragility and failure as a cause of and role in prolonging conflict will also be considered. In doing so, students will also begin to consider the overlap between the causes and consequences of conflict and violence, especially in protracted crises. Moving into the second half of the term, students also consider
  2. the impact of protracted and widespread violence upon development prospects and human security, in particular wide-ranging social and economic consequences of conflict and the relationship between conflict and vulnerability; finally, the module will examine
  3. how the international community responds to such complex emergencies considering both the rhetoric and practice of humanitarian responses to conflict and the challenges facing conflict-affected countries attempting to transition into post-war and recovery. Throughout the term, students will be asked to consider both academic discourses and case study examples.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, students should be able to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of definitions of war, violence and conflict
  • An understanding of key recent trends in violent conflict and an ability to critically engage with debates concerning roots and causes of violent conflict
  • An understanding of the impact of violence on states, societies and economies, including on particular groups within society
  • An ability to assess humanitarian intervention and assistance policy in relation to violent conflicts
  • An ability to analyse and evaluate international policy in relation to interventions, reconciliation and reconstruction
  • An ability to use empirically-formed analysis to identify gaps and tensions between theory and practice


Teaching will take the form of a one-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial each week.

Method of assessment

100% coursework. Each student will be expected to submit a lecture response worth 25% and one essay worth 75% of the overall grade.  Resubmission of coursework regulations apply.

Suggested reading

Introductory reading:
  • Barnett, Michael and Thomas G. Weiss (eds.) (2008) Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Cramer, Christopher (2006), Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing: Accounting for Violence in 
Developing Countries. London: Hurst.
  • de Waal, Alex (1997) Famine Crimes, London: African Rights: International African Institute.
  • Duffield, Mark (2001) Global Governance and the New Wars, London: Zed Books.
  • Kaldor, Mary (2007) Human Security: Reflections on Globalization and Intervention, Cambridge; Malden, Mass.: Polity Press.
  • Keen, David (2007) Complex Emergencies, Cambridge: Polity.
  • Richards, Paul, ed. (2004), No Peace, No War: An Anthropology of Contemporary Armed 
Conflicts. Oxford: James Currey; Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
  • Rotberg, Robert I., ed. (2004), When States Fail: Causes and Consequences. Princeton, NJ: 
Princeton University Press.
  • Vaux, Tony (2001) The Selfish Altruist, London: Earthscan.
  • Jennifer Welsh, (ed.) (2004), Humanitarian Intervention and International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Weiss, Thomas (2007), Humanitarian Intervention, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Wheeler, Nicholas J. (2000) Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society, Oxford: OUP


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules