Summer School

The IRW Summer School will run again in the summer of 2024.

The IRW summer school ‘Contemporary Conflict Analysis: Actors, Issues and Technologies of 21st Century Warfare’ equips scholars and professionals alike with cutting-edge knowledge and transferable skills for mapping, analysing and responding to warfare in the 21st century: who is fighting and how do they relate to one another (actors); what are they fighting over and why (issues and interests); and how exactly are they fighting (technologies and practices).

Rarely a day passes without the media reporting on violent uprisings, military coups, international interventions, suicide bombings, drone attacks, civilian casualties, and refugee crisis all over the world. In conflict studies, these events are often discussed using a range of concepts such as ‘civil war’, ‘protracted social conflict’, ‘invasions’, and ’terrorism’. More recently, new terms such as ‘hybrid warfare’, ‘remote warfare’ and ‘algorithmic warfare’ have been coined to try and capture the essence of contemporary conflict. Despite this proliferation of terms, clarifying the complexity of violent conflict in the 21st century remains a challenging task.

After following this course you will be a conflict analyst, able to untangle the challenging realities of 21st-century warfare. Rather than focusing on a single theory, concept, or case, this summer school programme covers a range of theoretical topics, such as conflict mapping, theories of violent conflict, and war propaganda, as well as more empirical subjects, such as the role of the (non) state actors, para-militarism, special operation forces, technology, and civilian harm. These topics will be covered with reference to empirical cases from around the world, such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Mali, Uganda, Sri Lanka and Colombia. 

Throughout the course we will address pressing issues in contemporary warfare like: How are terrorist and rebel organisations able to mobilize people towards violent action and govern the territories they control? Why do states deploy starvation and sieges as a weapon of war?  Why do states outsource violence to paramilitaries and special operation forces? What drives perpetrator behavior – is it their disposition, or the situation they find themselves in? If advanced militaries are able to wage war from a distance, will they become less war prone, or more? What does it mean when algorithms define who is worthy of elimination and protection in 21st century warfare? Why is tracking civilian harm so important for democratic control over contemporary warfare? How does social and political engagement with refugees shape conflict in host and home countries?

Collectively, grappling with these different layers of analysis in isolation and in relation to one another will sharpen your conceptual and analytical capacities greatly. You will acquire valuable skills and knowledge relating to the actors, issues, and technologies involved in 21st-century warfare. With a solid foundation in conflict analysis, you will be well-equipped to apply this to a range of academic and professional contexts, such as fieldwork in (post-)conflict areas, conflict management, negotiation, and tracking civilian harm. 

This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and interactive workshops. All participants receive the book Theories of Violent Conflict (Demmers 2017) and a reader with the course literature at the beginning of the course. The reader contains a number of scholarly, policy-oriented, and operational articles, as well as specific readings relating to the cases covered in the course. Academic lecturers, practitioners, or war journalists from the field delivering this course either belong to or are closely linked with the Intimacies of Remote Warfare programme and the Centre for Conflict Studies (CCS) of Utrecht University. This Summer School falls under the IOS and UGLOBE Contesting Governance flagship .