SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Nationalism, ethnicity and state in Asia and Africa

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 3 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 2

The course familiarizes students with major concepts, theories and academic approaches which have influenced scholarly and popular understandings of ethnicity, nationhood, nationalism and notions of individual and group identities in diverse political and territorial contexts. The course is organized into 2 thematic sections. The first section examines the dominant theoretical perspectives on the formation of ethnicity and the historical emergence of nationalism. It assesses the influence of capitalism, the impact of modernity and the role of colonialism in engendering new ethnic and national identities.

The second section is an inquiry into the conditions and contexts within which conflicts and violence occur along ‘ethnic’ or ‘nationalist’ markers. It will explore the effects of colonial legacy, ideological framework, economic inequalities and mobilizations led by ethnic entrepreneurs and political elites which contribute to outbreak of ethnic conflicts, separatism and a variety of forms of violence articulated along ethnic or nationalist markers.

Please note, this course is not available as a open option course.


153400067 Comparative Political Sociology of Asia and Africa OR 153400077 War and the International

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The course will enable the students to [1] cultivate a theoretical framework for analyzing the various manifestations of identities that are commonly labelled as ‘ethnic’ and ‘national’. [2] engage in a critical inquiry into these processes in diverse cultural and political contexts. [3] develop a comparative perspective to identify underlying similarities as well as distinctive elements of ethnic and nationalist politics across different political, regional and cultural contexts, and [4] gain a broader understanding of the region or countries of their specialization.


  • 1 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

Part 1. Concepts and Theories

  1. Ethnicity, Nationalism: Concepts and Definitions
  2. Nations and Nationalism (i): Imagined and Invented
  3. Nations and Nationalism (ii): Debates on Modernity and Tradition
  4. Colonialism: Demarcation of Group Boundaries
  5. Colonialism: Nationalism and State Formation
  6. Elites and Mobilization of Group Identities

Part 2:  Conflicts and Violence: Symbols, Identities, Opportunities

  1. Understanding ‘Ethnic’ or ‘Group’ Conflict and Violence
  2. Movements for self-determination and Secessionism
  3. De facto Secessions and Problems of Recognition
  4. Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide

Method of assessment

Assessment is two essays; one 1800 word essay worth 30% of the total mark and one 3600 word essay worth 70% of the total mark.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules