ASTK15693U SEMINAR: Approaches to International Conflicts - From Theory to Methods

Volume 2016/2017

Core course in the speicalization "International Relations, Diplomacy and Conflict Studies"

Bachelor level 20 ECTS

Master level 15 ECTS


The course enables students to comprehend sophisticated theories of international relations, diplomacy and conflict and use them actively in the analyses of contemporary international conflicts. 

Conflict and violence are complex phenomena involving situational dynamics, micro-level tensions, broader discourses of violence, identity negotiations and dynamics that can be analyzed at multiple levels. Previously wars and conflicts have been conceptualized as geopolitical battles between two states competing over land or other resources. Today, wars and international conflicts are often also characterized by being de-territorialized and protracted intrastate conflicts with asymmetric power relations - internationalized or transnationalized to varying degrees. In other words, conflicts and wars involve not just competing states, but also global networks of trade, diasporas, activism, new media, NGOs, lobby groups and citizen diplomacy. These are developments that IR theories, diplomacy and conflict theories struggle to make sense of. 

The course is focused around the concept of conflict understood in a broad sense. Conflict may range from diplomatic conflict to different versions of armed conflict, be it asymmetrical conflict, ethnic conflict or more classical security dilemmas. In the course we explore different approaches to conflict by moving through today's most decisive and novel theories – stretching from neorealism to micro-sociologies of conflict and diplomacy. We structure the course in terms of level of analysis from theories devoted to patterns of power on a macro level, to theories devoted to the micro-mechanisms that may generate or resolve conflict. Regardless of their radically different approaches to power and objects of analysis, what these theories have in common is that they seek to explain conflict, and generate answers to how conflict develops. The different theories therefore provide different and politically decisive answers to how we should respond to the current security climate in international relations. The aim of the course is to enable students to better grasp how the theories we use affect our possibilities for responding to international problems and from this basis be able to conduct their own, more balanced analyses of conflicts. 

The core course provides an overview of contemporary approaches to international conflicts. It builds on the sophisticated theoretical tradition within the Department and combines it with new theories of international conflict and diplomacy. The main perspectives within international diplomacy and conflict resolution are thus introduced together with relevant international relations theories. The course further advances students’ competences with regards to applying these theories analytically in concrete and focused analysis of international conflicts. The course is taught by a team of Faculty members. It will be taught in a combination of lectures, group work, written assignments and student presentations with an emphasis on active learning. 

Every class will consist of an introduction to a distinct theoretical approach which will then be applied to a practical case. You will engage with core concepts and dilemmas of the different academic traditions and learn to understand theories more comprehensively on their own terms, rather than as recipes. You will be challenged to understand theories with precision and in depth and to combine theories and empirics in new ways, as well as being able to think through practical implications of different approaches. 


In addition to the lectures, the course includes a two intensive week sessions where students will further develop their knowledge and skills in international diplomacy and conflict analysis by applying them to a number of specific cases. 

  1. The first part of the workshop is held at the beginning of the semester and consists of conflict analysis, input from conflict negotiation practitioners and a mediation exercise, where students will have to understand different sides of a particular conflict and mediate from this basis. The workshop moves students from abstract theories to operationalization and concrete empirical analysis. The mediation simulation gives the students a hands-on experience with and understanding of practices of addressing and diplomatically handling international conflicts.


  1. In the second part of the workshop at end of the semester students will be expected to build further on and apply their knowledge from the core course and at least one of the electives in the specialization. The workshop begins with a common case, which the whole class will reflect on and discuss. From there the students can freely choose conflict and theory. The workshop exercise provides the students with practical and theoretical tools, methods and concepts relevant for analyzing and addressing international conflicts. The workshop seeks to demonstrate the complementary use of various research methods. The output of the workshop is a poster presentation, where students are expected to reflect upon choice of theory and methods. It must have a clear problem statement and a clear argument.


Students will be working all days of the workshops as each day has an assigned task that must be completed. The skills and results of the workshop can be used in further projects in relation to the specialization, e.g. master thesis, other project papers and orals exams. It will provide a higher level of reflection on the combination of theories and methods for answering a particular question. 

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Learning Outcome

Overall you will help improve your:

  • Ability to critically reflect on different approaches to international conflicts and diplomacy
  • Empirical knowledge of current forms of diplomacy, conflicts and conflict patterns
  • Knowledge of theoretical trends and key debates within International Relations, Diplomacy and Conflict Studies
  • Ability to apply key theories to analyze historical and contemporary conflicts
  • Ability to identify and analyze the causes, dynamics and positions in a conflict
  • Ability to compare and synthesize diverse approaches to diplomacy, conflict analysis, prevention and resolution
  • Ability to critically discuss and evaluate current research on international conflicts
  • Ability to analyze and access different conflict and diplomatic tensions and their possible resolution 



The course improves the student’s understanding of international conflict and their resolution. The course is particularly relevant for students who aim for career in the area of foreign policy, diplomacy, global affairs, peacebuilding, reconciliation or the analysis, prevention and resolution of international conflicts. 



Participants should have completed a comprehensive course in International Relations theories. The course aims at a high theoretical level. Students are expected to read ahead of classes and participate actively during the semester.
Gruppearbejde, mæglings-simulering og fremlæggelser (workshoppen), Forelæsninger
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Total
  • 56
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Individual written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assesment