Political Violence and the Human Condition

Course code:
Period 1
Language of tuition:
Faculty of Social Sciences
dr. M. Weerdesteijn MSc
dr. M. Weerdesteijn MSc
dr. E.M. Sijbrandij
dr. M. Weerdesteijn MSc
Teaching method(s):
Reading, Seminar

Course objective

This course aims to provide students with knowledge of the perpetrators
and victims of political violence. It will cover the reasons why, and
the processes and mechanisms through which, people get involved in
political violence, as well as the impact this has on victims and their

When finalizing the course, students will have knowledge and
understanding of:
- The driving forces of violent behavior on an individual and group
- The psychological and neurological foundations of violent behavior;
- The adverse psycho-social and intergenerational consequences of
violence for victims and communities;
- The prospects and problems of an inter-disciplinary approach to
violent behavior that combines psychology and criminology.

In addition students will be able to:
- Gather and integrate knowledge of multiple disciplines with the
purpose of handling complexity of issues related to peace and conflict
and designing effective solutions;
- Formulate judgements based on a critical evaluation of knowledge,
methodologies and research results from multiple disciplines, which
include a critical reflection on the social and ethical responsibilities
linked to the application of the students’ own knowledge and judgements

Course content

Mass atrocities are frequently perpetrated during wars and they have a
devastating effect on the victims and their communities. The
perpetrators and the victims of this violence have been studied from
numerous disciplines including, but not limited to, criminology,
clinical psychology, psychiatry, social psychology and history. Studies
across these different disciplines have focused on characteristics and
processes that contribute to mass violence on different levels of
analysis. In addition, extensive scientific literature exists on the
consequences of mass violence for the exposed society, community and the
individual, and how
individuals, communities and countries may deal with the past.
In this course, these perspectives will be integrated to provide an
overview of the reasons why, and the processes through which,
individuals perpetrate mass atrocities. The hypothesis that these
individuals are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances will be
discussed by analyzing theories as well as case studies. Furthermore,
the appropriateness of individual accountability for these collective
manifestations of political violence will be discussed, as well as
potential alternatives.
A second central focus of the course will be the psychological and
psychosocial consequences of political violence and war-related trauma
for its victims and affected communities and societies. Finally, we will
also focus on how to interfere with the development of such adverse
consequences, on an individual, community and societal level.

Form of tuition

Lectures and seminars

Type of assessment

Exam (50%) and written assignments (50%).

© Copyright VU University Amsterdam
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