Violent Non State Actors: Violence, Crime and Conflict

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 17 January 2022
Friday 25 March 2022
31 March 2021


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA L250 International Relations (Including Foundation Year),
BA L258 International Relations,
BA L259 International Relations (Including Year Abroad),
BA L260 International Relations (Including Placement Year),
MPOLL268 International Relations,
MPOLL269 International Relations (Including Placement Year),
MPOLL370 International Relations (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

While political science scholarship has studied non-state actors more extensively, the world of violent non-state actors has only recently received attention and interest among academics and policy circles. Given the rise of groups such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, the focus on violent non-state actors has become more and more important.

This module focuses on the political science literature on violent non-state actors. The module examines why non-state actors resort to violence and crime, what tactics and strategies they use, how they fund their existence, how they undermine the state and what can be done to counter the instability they cause.
The module will examine the objectives of these organizations, what their mobilization strategies are and what often constitutes their support base. The module with give a thorough overview of not only the world of violent non-state actors but also the political, economic, geographical and regional environments which help to explain their strength.

Module aims

The module aims to introduce students to violent non-state actors such as warlords, terrorist and insurgent groups, paramilitary groups, private security companies, rebel and youth organizations, gangs and organized crime.

The module presents the basic theoretical and empirical findings in the literature on violent non-state actors and defines the key variables, in order to better understand how to conduct research in this area.

Though the module is theoretically driven, it will also focus on non-state actors in West and East Africa, Latin America, the Levant, Southeast Asia and Central Asia.
Students will understand what factors are conducive to the emergence of violent non-state actors, the regional dynamics that explain their persistence and why they are so challenging to the modern state.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will be able to:

1. Think critically about the emergence of violent non-state actors within a broad historical and comparative perspective;
2. Develop a more comprehensive understanding and familiarity of what violent non-state actors are and the main theoretical and empirical contributions of this new field;
3. Identify how violent non-state actors pose challenges to the state and how the state is able to respond to these challenges.
4. Identify the political, historical and socio-economic roots of violent non-state actors;
5. Communicate clear and well-researched observations about the substantive questions raised in the module.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered with (i) a weekly pre-recorded lecture and (ii) a weekly interactive lecture.


  • Phillips, Brian J. (2015-01) 'Enemies with benefits? Violent rivalry and terrorist group longevity', in Journal of Peace Research. vol. 52 (1) , pp.62-75
  • Phillips, Brian J. (2015-04) 'How Does Leadership Decapitation Affect Violence? The Case of Drug Trafficking Organizations in Mexico', in The Journal of Politics. vol. 77 (2) , pp.324-336
  • Varese, Federico. (2010) Organized crime: critical concepts in criminology, London: Routledge.
  • Marten, Kimberly. (2006/2007) 'Warlordism in Comparative Perspective', in International Security. vol. 31 (3) , pp.41-73
  • Ezrow, Natasha M. (2017) Global politics and violent non-state actors, London: Sage.
  • Staniland, Paul. (2017-07) 'Armed politics and the study of intrastate conflict', in Journal of Peace Research. vol. 54 (4) , pp.459-467
  • Cruz, José Miguel; Durán-Martínez, Angélica. (2016-03) 'Hiding violence to deal with the state', in Journal of Peace Research. vol. 53 (2) , pp.197-210
  • Leander, Anna. (2005) 'The Market for Force and Public Security: The Destabilizing Consequences of Private Military Companies', in Journal of Peace Research. vol. 42 (5) , pp.605-622
  • Arana, Ana. (2005) 'How the Street Gangs Took Central America', in Foreign Affairs. vol. 84 (3) , pp.98-
  • Makarenko, Tamara. (2004-02) 'The Crime-Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organised Crime and Terrorism', in Global Crime. vol. 6 (1) , pp.129-145
  • Arjona, Ana. (©2016) Rebelocracy: social order in the Colombian civil war, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Phillips, Brian J. (2015) 'How does leadership decapitation affect violence? The case of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico', in The Journal of Politics. vol. 77 (2) , pp.324-336
  • Kimberly Marten. (no date) 'Warlordism in Comparative Perspective', in International Security: The MIT Press.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Online test    25% 
Coursework   Case Study  02/03/2022  75% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Brian Phillips, email: brian.phillips@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Brian Phillips
Module Supervisor: Brian Phillips - brian.phillips@essex.ac.uk / Module Administrator: Lewis Olley - govquery@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Mohammed Rodwan Abouharb
University College London
Available via Moodle
Of 474 hours, 10 (2.1%) hours available to students:
464 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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