School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Interdisciplinary Summer School on Political Violence

From June 24-26, 2015, the School organized a Summer School on political violence in collaboration with the Global Justice Academy and the School of Social and Political Science. (Published 3 July 2015)

Dr Niall Whelehan and Dr Mathias Thaler (PIR) from SPS planned and convened the event, which involved 20 doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty from more than 10 countries, who were chosen through a competitive selection process. Five of those received scholarships and fee waivers to facilitate their attendance.


The three days were dedicated to multi-disciplinary and comparative debates about political violence, comprising voices from law, history and political theory. Each day comprised of morning sessions with staff from Edinburgh (Prof Christine Bell, Prof Donald Bloxham) and abroad (Prof Kimberly Hutchings, London; Prof Elizabeth Frazer, Oxford; Prof Manfred Nowak, Vienna; and Prof John Horne, TCD), as well as afternoon sessions with research-based presentations from the participants.


On the first day, legal perspectives on political violence were examined. Both Prof Nowak and Prof Bell connected theoretical explorations of international law to their professional and personal experiences in post-conflict societies. The second day focused on historical perspectives and brought together reflections on the emergence of paramilitaries in the aftermath of WWI (Prof Horne) with a detailed analysis of escalating mass atrocities, from the Armenian genocide to the Holocaust (Prof Bloxham). Finally, the last day dealt with perspectives from political theory. Prof Hutchings and Prof Frazer made use of innovative methods in participatory teaching to probe ideas on what constitutes political violence and how, if at all, we may draw a line between politics and violence.


The participants’ presentations in the afternoon revealed the manifold and interesting ways in which political violence can be approached in today’s scholarly landscape. From the recruitment strategies of Kenyan terrorist organizations to a critical reading of left-wing endorsements of non-violence in the US to the practical difficulties of contemporary resistance, a broad range of topics was scrutinized during the Summer School. The faculty members offered generous and constructive feedback on the presentations and helped facilitate discussions of wider relevance.


The social programme included an evening event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, for which tickets sold out, a guided historic tour of Edinburgh and a closing dinner. The feedback from the participants was extremely positive and indicates that the Summer School initiative could be extended in future years, perhaps again with a multi-disciplinary and comparative orientation.