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Political Science

Abbey Steele

BSc in Political Science

‘Guiding students to the logical implications of their arguments helps them to refine their ideas and learn what sorts of evidence they need to gather in order to test these.’

Abbey Steele is an assistant professor in Political Science. 

Photographer: Jeroen Doomernik

Which course(s) do you teach?

‘Civil wars are among the most devastating contexts that we study in political science. The courses that I teach, such as Violence and Order in Civil Wars in the Conflict Studies minor and a research project for BA students called Civil Wars and State-building, ask questions such as “What are the causes of civil wars?”; “Why are some wars more violent than others?”; “Why do some armed groups perpetrate sexual violence while others do not?”; “What explains the mass killing of civilians?”; and “How are armed groups organised and how do they recruit?” These questions are essential for understanding how wars dramatically transform communities, countries, individuals and politics, and for thinking about how wars might end, humanitarian assistance and what post-conflict reconstruction should involve.’

What do you want students to learn?

‘I approach teaching as a joint effort between the students and myself. We cover difficult material in my classes – in terms of theories, but also in terms of topics such as civilian killings in war – so I find it important to collaborate and to support each other in the effort.

I also try to help my students transform their hunches into hypotheses and to think about testing these with the use of real-world examples. For instance, if civil wars are fought over natural resources, where should we be more likely to observe civil wars, and when would they start? Guiding students to the logical implications of their arguments helps them to refine their ideas and learn what sorts of evidence they need to gather in order to test these.’

What is your own research about?

‘My research focuses on two broad topics: contemporary civil wars, which are the most common form of large-scale political violence, and the development of state institutions during and following wars. My first book, Democracy and Displacement in Colombia’s Civil War, will be published this year. It shows that even though we tend to think of democracy as a good way to mitigate or avoid conflicts, democratic reforms in Colombia led to a terrible intensification of the civil war.’