HST300.6 Death as Political: Violence, Grief, and Protest (Fall, Spring)

This course examines the interplay between political violence, popular protest, and peace processes with a particular focus on the role of public mourning and collective grief. Case studies from around the world introduce students to death as a catalyst for social change and an analytical lens for political science.

The 2020 police killing of George Floyd brought global attention to #BlackLivesMatter, a movement launched in 2013 in the wake of another death—that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Images like Floyd’s daughter proclaiming ‘Daddy changed the world’ highlight the potential for death and mourning to be significant catalysts for social and political change.

Death as Political: Violence, Grief, and Protest examines how contemporary protests build on other collective responses to death around the world. The course asks students to engage with the pain and emotion of a conflict society – as well as its constructive potential. As demonstrated by recent events, death can serve to draw attention to wider concerns. Sites and rituals of death in the form of memorial infrastructure, commemorative institutions, and highly publicized funerals are often used by activists, community leaders, and policymakers to champion particular causes.

This course introduces core concepts in peace and conflict studies by examining various types of political protest. Students will engage with literature on terrorism, violence, non-violence, peace, and reconciliation. Diverse tactics and outcomes for political violence will be explored in four conflict settings: Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’, South Africa’s Apartheid period, the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, and the now global Black Lives Matter movement. This historical and geographic diversity allows students to compare and contrast protest methods as they consider:

  • What is ‘peaceful’ protest?
  • What role do our emotions play in shaping responses to violence?
  • Who holds decision-making power for protest movements?
  • When do we achieve ‘peace’ and how do we maintain it?

While asking these questions, students will come to understand that violence and mourning are full of potential for both further conflict and greater peace.

This course may also be registered as PSC 300.6.

Department: History

Location: London

Semesters: Fall, Spring

Credits: 3