This course is about the application of qualitative methods to the study of civil war. It begins with an overview of the cutting edge in qualitative methods, intentionally casting its epistemological net broadly. We thus assess methods inspired by positivism (case studies, process tracing, counterfactual analysis) and those more interpretative in nature (discourse, ethnography, textual analysis) - the goal being to provide students with a robust set of tools for explaining and understanding the dynamics of civil war. The course also reviews the promise (and pitfalls) of methodological pluralism or so-called mixed methods. Key readings for this first part include work by Andrew Bennett, John Gerring, Ted Hopf, Evan Lieberman, James Mahoney, Jennifer Milliken and Sid Tarrow.

The stage thus set, the bulk of the course then explores applications of qualitative and mixed methods to the study of civil war. Our focus is not so much what these studies say about the dynamics of civil conflict; rather, we assess their use of qualitative methods. What slippage occurs (and why) between the abstract methodological ideal and real world applications? What counts as good process tracing in the context of civil war? Why are interpretive qualitative methods - and the constructivist theorizing that inspires them - often absent in work on civil war? What are the special challenges of employing mixed methods, and can or should one mix methods across epistemological divides? Here, key readings will include work by Christopher Blattman, Lee Ann Fujii, Stathis Kalyvas, Roger Petersen, Idean Salehyan, Nicholas Sambanis, Jeremy Weinstein and Elisabeth Wood.

The course is organized in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Led by Professor Jeffrey T. Checkel, Simon Fraser University ( and Centre for the Study of Civil War (CSCW).

For several class sessions we will be joined by leading scholars working on civil conflict or qualitative methods as applied to civil conflict.

Prerequisites: The course assumes a basic knowledge of qualitative methods, as taught, say, at the master’s level.

Requirements: (1) Active participation in class discussions (NB - This means that assigned readings must be completed prior to the start of the course); and (2) preparation of a 6000-10000 word analytic essay (due within three months of the course end).

Format: The course will be run as a seminar, where discussion and debate are the norm.

Credits: 10 ECTS

Syllabus: See related documents list - and also articles below

Registration: Registration is now closed and the course is full.

Course fee: none

NTNU contact person: Einar Gimse Syrstad (