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POL S 544 A: Problems In Comparative Government

Meeting Time: 
T 2:30pm - 5:20pm
SAV 167
Joint Sections: 
POL S 527 A
Professional Picture
Geoffrey P.R. Wallace

Syllabus Description:


Fall 2023
Tuesday 2:30pm-5:20pm
Savery Hall (SAV), Room 167




Course Description

This graduate-level course surveys major debates in the field of political violence with a particular focus on the treatment of noncombatants during armed conflict. While much scholarly attention has traditionally centered on the causes of war, a growing body of work examines the conduct of actors in the midst of conflict. Politics does not end when belligerents take up arms, but rather influences all aspects of warfare. This is especially the case with the resort to violence against civilians as a tool of armed conflict. Civilians have been brutally targeted in some wars or by some armed groups, while largely spared in others. Moreover, the timing, location, severity, and type of violence directed against civilians can vary dramatically.

Students will examine these dynamics of political violence through a series of weekly topics. Assigned readings illustrate the diverse range of research designs employed in the field, providing an opportunity to evaluate the merits of different methodological approaches to the study of political violence. The readings also draw on research from a variety of types of armed conflict, regions of the world, and historical time periods in order to highlight patterns of violence through differing contexts. 

The course begins with an overview of just war theory and the normative basis for limits on the use of violence during war. This is followed by an assessment of the challenges in conceptualizing and measuring violence. Subsequent weeks investigate some of the main approaches put forward to explain violence against civilians, including those emphasizing race and ethnicity, domestic politics, organizational factors, information and territorial control, and individual-level motives. The course concludes with research on the effectiveness of wartime violence as a strategy, as well as policies seeking to prevent abuse. 

In a quarter-length course, certain topics, by necessity, cannot be covered. Similarly, many of the week’s topics, such as those on just war theory or race and violence, could constitute entire courses on their own. Nevertheless, the course aims to provide students firm theoretical and empirical foundations for further research into wartime conduct and the broader study of political violence. As an additional overall objective, the course requirements are designed for students to develop professionalization skills and improve their ability to present their ideas both verbally and in writing.

An Administrative Note: This course can either count for students under POL S 527 Special Topics in International Relations Research, or POL S 544 Problems in Comparative Government.


Course Requirements
Regular Seminar Participation (30%)
Two Critical Response Memos (20%)
Article Presentation (10%)
Author’s Defendant (5%)
Final Paper (35%)

Catalog Description: 
Selected problems in the comparative analysis of political institutions, organizations, and systems.
Last updated: 
June 12, 2023 - 2:23pm