Towards the Critique of Violence

Course content

Radical forms of violence have emerged as an undeniable influence on contemporary democratic society. From the murder of George Floyd, to the January 6th insurgent riot at the US Capital, from neofascist assaults, to anti-fascist resistance, the place of violence in contemporary political life has recently been transforming. Where violence was once eschewed as a fundamental stumbling block to democratic political life, we would be right to wonder now whether new violences are signs of important changes in contemporary democratic politics. How can we understand current social and political violences in the wake of such transformations?


The aim of this course is to provide an in-depth critical study of the idea of violence. At the center of this investigation is Walter Benjamin’s essay, ‘Towards the Critique of Violence’ (1921). In this short essay, Benjamin offers an important framework to wrestle with the complexities of violence, and a direct confrontation with the question of violence in relation to politics and the law. Using Benjamin’s text as a starting point, students will engage a host of recent theorizing on violence and its effects on contemporary political life, including Judith Butler, Hannah Arendt, Franz Fanon, and Carl Schmitt, amongst others. We will use these thinkers to consider the place of violence in variety of political contexts, including political revolutions, activist social movements, as well a reactionary extremisms, and totalitarian regimes. Such analyses will engage a series of questions: What is violence? How political is violence? How effective is violence in creating political change? What are the limits of state violence? How can we distinguish violence and non-violence? What politics results if we eschew violence completely? What is the place of violence in contemporary political life?


To engage these questions, we will explore a constellation of concepts, including forms of violence, practices of non-violence, mythic violence, the general strike, suicide protest, resistance, and affect and violence, amongst others. A critique of violence necessitates an exploration of the relations between law and violence. Rather than presume these are distinct, this course will explore examples of when they are coincident and when they are in tension. Paying close attention to the contours of violence should allow for an understanding of how to recognize it and ways to resist it, moving towards a critique that can confront the depths of violence in contemporary politics.


Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


Notice: It is only possible to enroll for one course having a 3-day compulsory written take-home assignment exam due to coincident exam periods.



Learning outcome

Goals Description:

The objective of the course is to enable students to:

Describe the place of violence in contemporary democratic politics, in particular with regard to social order and and state sovereignty.

Present and analyze key contributions to the reconceptualization of violence in contemporary political thought.

Apply reconceptualizations of violence to discussions about the institutions and culture of democratic politics.

Evaluate the validity of various arguments regarding political violence.


This course enhances students’ ability to think critically and to combine complex theories with insight from contemporary political world. Emphasis will be on the ability to present a coherent argument, and to discuss and evaluate competing claims. The course will be relevant for students interested in working with complex issues in politics and elsewhere.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
3-day compulsory written take-home assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No 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
  • 28
  • English
  • 28


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester

Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Andrew Lloyd Poe   (3-646f73436c6976316e7831676e)
Saved on the 21-05-2021

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