Winter School Critical Dialogues on Violence: Foundations and Current debates - 4 ECTS

The course “Critical Dialogues on Violence: Foundations and Current Debates” offers an in-depth engagement with foundational texts presenting different conceptualizations and theoretical framings of violence. Increasingly, different forms of conflict and violence permeate everyday-day dynamics of social life. PhD students who study topics related to resource management, social-economic change and governance, may encounter multiple contradictions, conflicts, and overt or covert forms of violence in dynamic research settings. While few PhD projects directly study the causes and effects of violence, most PhD students working on these issues need to develop an adequate conceptualization of conflict and violence as they tend to form an integral part of their research context. This course offers students a theoretical basis to approach processes of conflict and violence in their research projects, touching upon questions such as: What is violence? How does it come about? How is violence organised, socially and politically? More practically, the course asks: in what ways does violence permeate our research projects?

The course particularly explores the (re-) production of violence, focusing on conceptualizations of violent behaviour, the social and political organisation of violence, and violence as communication. It draws on different disciplines (history, philosophy, political sociology, geography, economics). The course combines thorough reading of foundational texts with readings of more recent key thinkers. We will trace how some of the foundational readings found their way into current debates that problematize the nature of violence.

Organised by Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS)

Mon 8 January 2018 until Fri 12 January 2018

Duration Registration deadline: Monday 18 December 2017
Venue Leeuwenborch, building number 201
Hollandseweg 1
6706 KN Wageningen

Learning outcomes

Students will engage directly with foundational texts on violence and the various ways this can be interpreted in actual research today. This will allow them to engage more deeply with aspects of their research project that are not directly the topic of study but that potentially greatly shape its outcome or at least determine parts of the lives of its respondents. With this course we hope to accommodate a necessity to dialogue on violence and its multiple interpretations, and to advance on research projects of students who are confronted with different forms of violence in their research.

After successful completion of this course, participants are expected to be able to:

  • Identify core theoretical frames to understand the (re-) production of violence.
  • Understand the relevance of historical, abstract and theoretical texts and apply them to contemporary issues and debates
  • Critically reflect on the implications of different theoretical framings for their research projects
  • Develop a conceptualisation of violence for their own research project


    Session 1 Introduction: Understanding violence Gemma van der Haar and Lotje de Vries None
    Session 2 Do we need a central form of power to control violence? Han van Dijk Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
    Session 3 How can societies protect themselves from state violence? Joost Jongerden Pierre Clastres: The Archeology of violence
    Session 4 How is violence part of claim-making? Gemma van der Haar Charles Tilly: The politics of collective violence
    Session 5 Can violence be a legitimate response to repression? Lotje de Vries Franz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth
    Session 6 Is violence a normal property of human behaviour? Lisa Trogisch Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem, a report an the banality of evil
    Session 7 Is violence rational behaviour? Maarten Voors James Fearon: Rationalist Explanations for War
    Session 8 How is violence a form of communication? Arjaan Pellis Niklas Luhmann: Social systems
    Session 9 Final session: master class Prof. Jeffrey Sluka (Massey University, New Zealand) All

    Note: Selected excerpts of these texts and additional literature will be provided closer to the starting date.


    The course is organised around reading, self-study, active pre-class preparation, and dialogue. Over the
    course of one week, participants will have morning and afternoon seminar sessions. The readings,
    including guiding questions, will be provided before the Christmas break.

    - Session one will serve as an introduction into the topic and set-up of the course. We will allow participants to get to know each other, briefly discuss each other’s research projects, and align expectations. We will also elaborate on the different manifestations of violence in their research projects.

    - The literature-based sessions will discuss foundational texts on violence and bring the discussions in the text to recent debates on violence. Where possible we seek to also discuss how the specific literature of that week is applied in empirical research.  The sessions start with an introduction of the literature of about 45 minutes. The remaining time is used for a critical dialogue, drawing on questions brought in by the participants.

    - On Friday 12th January 2017, we organise a PhD masterclass/research seminar in the morning in which the participants discuss their research in relation to the different perspectives offered in the course. Jeffrey Sluka, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Massey University studying violence and terrorism, will respond to these presentations from a methodological and content perspective. In the
    afternoon, he will give a public WASS lecture.


    The assessment consist of 1) an evaluation of the student’s participation in the literature sessions and 2) a short essay (3000 words) in which participants will reflect on the ways in which forms or aspects of violence they are confronted with in their PhD research. 1) The active participation in class is assessed through the submission of at least one question for debate and comments on the reading prior to the class, to be submitted at least one day in advance of each session via blackboard. This will also facilitate the teacher in her/his preparation of the lecture. 2) In the final essay, students are asked to apply the theory of one or two sessions and make a connection between the course literature, the theoretical debates in their research and the ways in which they see themselves confronted with forms of violence in their projects.

    The course coordinators (Gemma van der Haar and Lotje de Vries) will assess the level of participation and comment on the essays. There will be no final grades but both aspects need to be evaluated positively.

    Target group and min/max number of participants

    This intense course aims for a maximum of 20 students in order to assure a high level of interaction between the teachers and the participants. The course is intended for PhD students in the social and environmental sciences from within WASS and other universities in the Netherlands and beyond. The course is of particular relevance to students in anthropology, communication sciences, development economics, geography, political science, and sociology of development who are confronted with different forms of violence in their research, especially during their fieldwork. Students at an advanced master level are also welcome.

    Assumed prior knowledge

    This course is a thorough and critical introduction into debates in the social sciences surrounding violence. Participants are expected to have a basic level of knowledge about concepts or debates related to the broader social sciences. Please contact the course coordinators in case of doubt about the required entry level.

    Course fee 

    WASS, PE&RC and WIMEK/SENSE PhDs with TSP € 300
    a) All other PhD candidates b) Postdocs and staff of the above mentioned Graduate Schools € 600
    All others € 900

    Fee includes coffee/tea, and course materials.  

    NB: for some courses, PhD candidates from other WUR graduate schools with a TSP are also entitled to a reduced fee. Please consult your Education/PhD Programme Coordinator for more information

    Cancellation conditions:

    The participants can cancel their registration free of charge 1 month before the course starts. A cancellation fee of 100% applies if a participant cancels his/her registration less than 1 month prior to the start of the course.

    The organisers have the right to cancel the course no later than one month before the planned course start date in the case that the number of registrations does not reach the minimum.

    The participants will be notified of any changes at their e-mail addresses.