Political Institutions

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the study of institutions forms the core of political science. The principal aim of the course is to familiarize students with cutting-edge research on the development and the consequences of political institutions. The course is divided into two parts, each with its own instructor.

In the first part, prof. Bogaards introduces students to the new institutionalism in political science. Each session has a mix of theory and empirical analysis. This part of the course has two objectives. First, to introduce students to the main types of institutional theory in combination with selected empirical applications. Second, to familiarize students with the various processes that strengthen and transform institutions.

In the second part, prof. Miklosi discusses political institutions from the perspective of normative political theory. Political institutions make rules that they claim to be binding for all persons within their jurisdiction, and they use coercion to enforce those rules. It is generally agreed that political rule is prima facie problematic, and stands in need of special justification. However, there are fundamental disagreements regarding not only the necessary conditions of successful justification, but also about what, exactly, makes political rule at least prima facie problematic. For some, it is the coercive restrictions of the freedom of those subject to political rule that call for special justification. For others, it is the distinctive form of inequality associated with the relationship of some people ruling over others that requires justification. Furthermore, there are divergent interpretations of the values of freedom and equality underlying the suggested need for justification. Correspondingly, different analyses of the basis of the requirement of special justification point towards different accounts of the necessary conditions of successful justification. Different accounts of the problem that require a response point towards two distinct though not mutually exclusive political ideals as the basis of justified political rule. Freedom-based accounts of the problem of political rule are associated with the rule of law as a political ideal, whereas equality-based analyses of the problem of rule point towards democracy as a distinctively egalitarian procedure as (part of) the answer. The course will discuss these different accounts and will conclude by bringing these perspectives to bear on the problem of international legal practices and the conditions of their legitimacy.

Learning Outcomes: 

The overall grade for the course will primarily indicate the ability of the student to comprehend the ways in which political institutions can be studied in theory and practice. Students will learn how political institutions are constituted, maintained, and transformed. The learning outcomes of the doctoral program are supported and measured by the present course in the following ways: The ability to deploy effective oral presentation and discussion skills is assessed with the help of a presentation. The skills to analyze contemporary events in broader institutional, political and social context, to evaluate political institutions in a comparative perspective, to make policy-relevant conclusions and to employ cutting-edge methods are reflected in the essay. Finally, the seminar discussions (measured by the 'class activity' component of the final grade) will show how students can conduct a dialogue employing cross-national comparative perspectives.

The expected learning outcomes of the second part of the course include familiarity with the conceptual tools and theoretical approaches to the normative study of political institutions, and with the main normative problems of political rule. Furthermore, the course is expected to enhance analytical skills and skills on normative reasoning.



Assignments and assessment (first part, prof. Bogaards)

(1) Students will present one reading in class (10%)

(2) Submit written questions or discussion points about two additional readings, for different sessions (10%)

(3) Participate actively (10%)

(4) Write a 2,500-word essay (maximum) reflecting on the relevance of the new institutionalism for your PhD project (20%)

Assignments and assessment (second part, prof. Miklósi)

(1) Students will present one reading in class (10%)

(2) Submit written questions or discussion points about two additional readings (10%)

(3) A term paper of approximately 2,500 words that critically discusses a particular problem (20%).

(4) Participation (10%)