Insurgents, Criminals and Terrorists

The details
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
03 March 2022


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

The world of violent non-state actors has received growing attention among academics and policy circles. Given the rise of groups such as the Islamic State, and criminal organisations fighting in Mexico and other locations, the focus on violent non-state actors has become increasingly important.

This module focuses on the political science literature on violent non-state actors. The module starts with a conceptual approach, considering why some groups fit into categories such as "insurgent" while others perhaps fit better in another category such as "terrorist" or "mafia". It also 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 will 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 organizations, gangs and organized crime. The module presents in-depth theoretical and empirical findings in the literature on violent non-state actors and defines the key variables, to better understand how to conduct research in this area. Though the module is theoretically driven, it will also apply theory to non-state actors in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and other regions. 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

On successful completion, students will be able to:
1. Think critically about the emergence of violent non-state actors within a broad historical & comparative perspective;
2. Develop a more comprehensive understanding and familiarity of the differences across types of violent non-state actors, and how to classify an organisation as one type or another;
3. Understand the main theoretical and empirical contributions of this new field;
4. Identify how violent non-state actors pose challenges to the state and how the state is able to respond to these challenges.
5. Identify the political, historical and socio-economic roots of violent non-state actors;
6. Communicate clear and well-researched observations about the substantive questions raised in the module.

Module information

Indicative syllabus:
Introduction: What are VNSAs?
Insurgent organisations
Warlords, militias, and vigilantes
Terrorist organisations
Organised crime
Crime-terror nexus
Private military companies
Countering VNSAs: Coercive approaches
Countering VNSAs: Less-coercive approaches

Learning and teaching methods

The module will be delivered via a two-hour weekly seminar. Students will be expected to read in advance, and the seminar will be a mixture of lecture, entire-group discussion, and small-group discussion if the numbers permit it. This multi-method approach will make sure that students will learn about the material in a variety of ways, including speaking about it themselves. I will incorporate multi-media material such as maps and short videos to provide additional means to understand the content, and to keep students’ interest and encourage discussion.


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 Coursework weighting
Coursework   Online test: Key concepts    25% 
Coursework   Essay 1: Case Study of single VNSA    35% 
Coursework   Essay 2: Case study of multiple types of VNSAs in one country    40% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Sotirios Karampampas, email: s.karampampas@essex.ac.uk.



External examiner

Dr Adrian Florea
University of Glasgow
Senior Lecturer in International Relations
Available via Moodle
Of 40 hours, 40 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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