GV317      Half Unit
The Modern State - Theory and Practice

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Patrick Dunleavy


This course is available on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and International Relations and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


This course is capped at 1 group.  The deadline for enrolments is 12:00 noon, Friday 29 September, 2017. 


Some background in at least one of these fields will be helpful: political theory, comparative politics, political sociology, public policy/economics, or international relations.

Course content

Since the 2008 financial crisis the modern state has re-emerged as a key actor in shaping the political identities, welfare and  life-chances of its citizens; the strength and shape of a nation’s economy; and  much of the development of international policies.  Some earlier expectations of the dwindling away of state institutions in the face of global forces or international institutions have been decisively refuted. Yet the operations of states as ’multi-systems’, with many component parts, continues to generate theoretical controversy about whether and how they exist, and how their diversity can be ascribed unity of purpose or operations. The first five weeks examine the main theories of the modern, complex state and controversies about its unity and diversity. After reading week, we move on to look at the integrating roles of budget systems, constitutional provisions, bureaucratic institutions and information policies, the ‘regulatory state’ and ‘welfare state’ institutions in shaping the overall evolution of states.  The approach is comparative throughout, drawing mainly on the experience of OECD countries and advanced industrial societies.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

John Dryzek and Patrick Dunleavy, Theories of the Democratic State (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009).

Francis Fukyama, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015).

Timothy Mitchell, ‘The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics’, American Political Science Review, (1991) Vol. 85, No. 1, pp. 77-96.

Colin Hay, ‘Neither real nor fictitious but “as if real”’? A political ontology of the state’, British Journal of Sociology (2014) Volume 65 Issue 3, pp. 459-80.

David Levi-Faur, ‘The welfare state: a regulatory perspective’, Public Administration, September 2014, vol 92, no.3, pp 599-614.


Presentation (10%) in the Week 11.
Essay (90%, 4000 words) in January.

Student performance results

(2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
First 28.6
2:1 71.4
2:2 0
Third 0
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2016/17: 5

Average class size 2016/17: 5

Capped 2016/17: Yes (4)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication

Course survey results

(2016/17 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 83%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


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Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


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