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Dr Simone Tholens

Dr Simone Tholens

Senior Lecturer in International Relations

School of Law and Politics

+44 (0)29 2087 5445
3.06b, Law Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX
Available for postgraduate supervision


I am a Lecturer in International Relations at Cardiff University, and the co-director of the Centre for Conflict, Security and Societies

My research and teaching deals with knowledge production in and thorugh practices of interventions, stabilisation and security governance. I am particularly interested in the role of networks and practical know-how, and the way field practitioners navigate 'global norms' and complex 'local contexts'. My recent work explores these themes in Lebanon, Kosovo, Cambodia and Aceh, as well as in the EU-MENA relationship.


Simone completed her PhD at the European University Institute in 2012, during which she also spent periods as a guest researcher at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB) and at the Norwegian Institute for Foreign Affairs (NUPI). After completing her PhD, she worked for three years as a Research Associate at the ERC funded ‘Borderlands’ project, hosted at the RSCAS, European University Institute, as well as an Adjunct Professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University, SAIS Bologna, where she taught the post-graduate course ‘Principles and Practices of Conflict Management’ over three academic years. Prior to her PhD she studied at University of Oslo (BA in Political Science) and University of Amsterdam (MA in International Relations), and briefly worked with the United Nations Development Program in Serbia.



  • Bueger, C. and Tholens, S. 2020. Theorising capacity building. In: Bueger, C., Edmunds, T. and McCabe, R. eds. Understanding Capacity Building: Maritime Security and the Western Indian Ocean Experience. Palgrave Macmillan










My current teaching includes:

  • Year 2 module: "International Security: Concepts and Issues"
  • Postgraduate module: "Conflict Management: From the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Syrian War"

I supervise PhD, MSc and BA level dissertation on topics broadly defined within the rubric of peace and conflict studies, and am particularly interested in:

  • contemporary warfare and post-war reconstruction
  • military aid and security sector reform
  • disarmament, arms dynamics, and small arms and light weapons control
  • borders and border management
  • conflict resolution
  • global security governance

Within my overarching research interest on security governance in post-war countries, my current research takes three main forms:

First, I am concerned with the relationship between sovereignty and space through a focus on Border Management strategies and practices in the regions adjacent to Europe, i.e. the MENA and Western Balkans regions. In particular, I currently research the role of external actors in changing, perpetuating, and challenging dynamics defining border control in political transition regions, and my research seeks to unpack how changes at the border translates into changes in the control over domestic political resources. I am currently involved in a study of how this plays out in Lebanon, which has an urgent situation along its Eastern border with Syria, and which witnesses major security assistance by donors seeking to bolster the Lebanese state capacity to prevent the war in Syria from spilling over. Moreover, I engage in a comparative case study of the EU’s promotion of Integrated Border Management (IBM) in the MENA region and the Western Balkans, seeking to understand how EU IBM is diffused, localized, and contested in these two regions along the European ‘core’. This feeds into my research on ‘Borderlands’, in which the relationship between the European ‘core’ and MENA ‘periphery’ is seen as interconnected in ways that break down various functions of borders, through a focus on common rules, norms and practices.

Second, my research focuses on forms of contestation in the field of international security more broadly. The diffusion of norms, rules and practices in this realm is a major form of influence in the era of ‘capacity building’ and ‘best practice standards’. However, local actors engage in contestation practices that need to be understood beyond mere ‘opposition’. Often, the partial appropriation, localization and actualization through specific local prisms yield new meaning to external ideas of models of security sector governance. I am particularly interested in understanding how international-local dynamics play out in this field, and how international norms may eventually be contested ‘from below’ through practice.

Third, my interest rests with further understanding the role of arms, arms availability, disarmament, and the first, critical phase of demobilizing countries at war. I have researched these issues in Palestine, Kosovo, Cambodia and Aceh over the past 10 years, and see it is as not only key to transitions from war to peace, but also as a primary focus of the international conflict management community after the disillusionment of the experiences with comprehensive peacebuilding and statebuilding in the 1990s and 2000s.


Current supervision

Rosa Maryon

Research student