Michael Nicholson Centre for Conflict and Cooperation

Part of Department of Government

Two hands in a handshake making an agreement

We are dedicated to the systematic study of conflict and conflict resolution.

We bring together expertise in the quantitative analysis of war and peace with specialised knowledge in the analysis of disaggregate, event and geographic data as well as field surveys and experimental research designs. We are distinctive in our scientific orientation to the study of conflict, emphasising rigorous formal theory and the development of systematic data and statistical methods for evaluating theory. 

Our members provide research that can underpin evidence-based policy. We have close ties to our Department's courses in conflict resolution and international relations. We provide links between research and education by actively integrating our students in research projects.

We also host seminars, facilitate contact with other institutions and welcome academic visits.

"Few would look at the present state of the world with its poverty, violence and threats of violence with any equanimity. However, if we are to improve its working we must understand how the world works at the moment." 
Michael Nicholson International relations. a coNCISE Introduction 

Our centre

Our research projects

Our recent and ongoing research projects deal with:

  • the tenure and transition of authoritarian leadership
  • the organisation and effectiveness of violent and non-violent resistance
  • the local impact of peacekeeping
  • the importance of women in restoring peace after civil conflict
  • security sector reform and perceived personal safety
  • international mediation and conflict management

Projects are funded by the European Commission, British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, Folke Bernadotte Academy and the Economics and Social Research Council

Published works on conflict

Published works on cooperation

Research grants

 Research grants awarded to members include:

  • British Academy small grant to study: Trust in organizations and their impact on peace processes in Haiti (Han Dorussen and Zorzeta Bakaki).
  • A 2019 GCRF/NF agile grant (EPSRC) to study the: Uptake of Public Health Practices for Prevention of COVID-19 among Refugees, Pastoralist Communities, Truck Drivers and Slum Dwellers in Uganda (Han Dorussen).
  • 2020 Folke Bernadotte Academy to collect data on: Political Initiatives and Peacekeeping (Han Dorussen and Govinda Clayton).
  • 2016 International Development Research Centre to study and advise on: Gender Budgeting in Myanmar (Ismene Gizelis).
  • 2018 Research Council of Norway to study: Armed Conflict and Maternal Health in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ismene Gizelis).
  • 2014 GCRF (University of Essex) to study: Forced Disappearances in Mexico (Brian Phillips).
  • 2019 Research Council of Norway to study: The Crime-Reducing Effect of Education: Disaggregating Education and Impact on Violent Crime (Kristian Gleditsch), 2020.
  • Economic and Social Research Council to study: Inequality and Governance in Unstable Democracies: The Mediating Role of Trust (Kristian Gleditsch), 2019

The naming of our centre

Our centre is named after Michael Nicholson (1933-2001) who was a pioneer in formal and quantitative analysis of conflict and cooperation when this type of research was uncommon and often controversial among British scholars. We have named our Centre after him to honour his legacy and to indicate our similar research orientation.

In the late 1960s the University of Essex sought to establish itself as a centre for systematic research in Political Science, but lacked competence in international relations. The University did not want to recruit a traditional British scholar, but rather someone who could teach international relations in a manner more in line with the social scientific approach to the study of political behaviour and parties that the University was known from. At the time, Michael Nicholson was one of very few UK-based scholar interested in this line of research, and he accepted to teach a course on international relations between 1970 and 1975. At the present, Essex has a large research group working on conflict and cooperation, and the social scientific approach advocated by Nicholson has become much more common in the UK.

Nicholson was trained as an economist, but developed at an early stage an interest in how mathematical models could be applied to conflict. Nicholson advocated the need for a social scientific approach, identifying decision-makers and their objectives, and trying to understand the specific circumstances when their interactions make conflict and cooperative outcomes more or less likely. Since propositions about conflict situations are often probabilistic, we need systematic data to evaluate these. Nicholson was a strong critic of the traditionalism that dominated many British institutions, which typically eschews the value of theoretical formalization and systematic evaluation or data collection.

Nicholson published a number of important books and scholarly articles, including a 1992 monograph on Rationality in International Relations (Cambridge University Press) and 2002 text book (International Relations: A Concise Introduction, Palgrave). He was awarded the Lewis Fry Richardson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, in explicit recognition of his work on the systematic analysis of conflict.

Nicholson held full time academic appointments at University College London, the Richardson Institute for Conflict and Peace Research, the University of Kent, and Sussex University. He also taught part time at the University of Essex between 1970 and 1975.

"Michael made wonderful use of his skills and expertise as a social scientist to explore how conflicts can be avoided or defused, without resorting to violence and bloodshed. Although Michael is no longer physically with us, his ideas on how rationality can be used to promote peace rather than war are becoming even more relevant to the contemporary world."