Mercenaries, Gangs and Terrorists: Private Security in International Politics (L7092ADU)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

The module looks at the nature of security in international politics from the non-traditional perspective of private actors who are willing to use force to advance the objectives that (for better or worse) they place a high value on. The first section of the module provides a theoretical context that will enable you to develop your ideas about: what 'security' is and how it relates to other values; why sovereign states are often treated as the starting-point for the study of global security; the ways in which the private use of force can be conceptualised as both a problem and a solution to security dilemmas; and the ways in which actors in the global South face security challenges that are often unique from the challenges of those in the North.

In the second section of the module, you will have the opportunity to study particular actors, issues and cases, including private military companies, gangs, political insurgency movements and transnational terrorist groups. you will be challenged to think through the assumption that the private use of force automatically constitutes a threat that needs to be dealt with by sovereign actors, particularly at the international level. By the end of the module, you will demonstrate your theoretical and empirical understanding of the nature and significance of private security in international politics through a case-based research essay.

The assessment for this module is a piece of coursework (weighted 10%) and a long term paper of 6000 words (weighted 90%). The teaching mode is a one-hour lecture and a two-hour seminar each week.


100%: Seminar


10%: Coursework (Report)
90%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 36 hours of contact time and about 264 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

This module is running in the academic year 2021/22. We also plan to offer it in future academic years. However, we are constantly looking to improve and enhance our courses. There may be changes to modules in response to student demand or feedback, changes to staff expertise or updates to our curriculum. We may also need to make changes in response to COVID-19. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: