Core Subject: Approaches to International Conflicts - From Theory to Methods

Course content

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. 


Core subject in the core-subject line in International Relations and Conflict Resolution. Only accessible to students who are admitted to International Relations and Conflict Resolution.

Bachelor level 20 ECTS

Master level 15 ECTS


NB! All exams (both ordinary and re-exams) will take place at the end of the autumn semester only, as the course is not offered in the spring

Learning outcome


  • Empirical knowledge of current conflicts, conflict patterns and conflict resolution practices  
  • Knowledge of theoretical trends and key debates within International Relations and Conflict Resolution



  • Ability to critically reflect on different approaches to understanding and handling international conflicts
  • 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

A mix of in-class lectures, student group work, invited guest-lectures and student workshops.

Will be uploaded

Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Written examination
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • English
  • 56