This course will provide an overview of anthropological approaches to the study of war, and violent ethnic conflict. Overall, the course takes a socio-political approach to the study of violence and war, seeing warfare as a socially (historically) structured activity like any other form of collective action. However, it also returns over and again to cross-cultural constancies (and variations) in the nature and organisation of political violence and in dealing with the aftermath of violent conflict. In the long duree it might seem that 'primitive war tactics' always beat 'modern war machines' - as the experience in Afghanistan has shown once again.

Taught by an anthropologist, the course starts from an evolutionary perspective on violence moving from the ethology of predation and violence, through an examination of the historical evolution of violent conflict and war. What are the implications of the suggestion that imaginaries and imageries of ‘conquest’ and violent domination lie at the heart of many of the core rituals of human societies?

The course then begins to focus on a number of key empirical fields, looking at: prominent forms of pre-modern conquest; the long history of ethnic differentiation and recent genocidal conflicts in the Rwandan and Burundian states; the role of nationalism and the nation state in promoting war in the modern world; the nature of anti-colonial conflicts, ‘peasant wars’ as Eric Wolf felicitously put it, in Zimbabwe, Algeria and Bougainville (Oceania), before turning to the nature of post-liberation civil war through the history of the Biafran seccession.

Two sessions on the nature of political violence in modern democracies - drawing on material from South East Asia, South Asia and Norther Europe (Ireland) - bring us back to the nature of violence itself and its relationship to political legitimacy. Wrapping up we return to the broad anthropological question of the imagery of ‘the warrior’ in the ancient and modern world, looking also at diverse ways of dealing with and representing the legacy of violent conflict and its traumatised victims.