EC241      Half Unit
PPE Interdisciplinary Research Seminar

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Michael Callen 32L.3.18


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

Course content

Governments serve several functions key to economic development, including correcting market failures, raising taxes, delivering services, and protecting property rights. Yet, particularly in poor countries, they often fail to do so effectively. In this course, we will explore the empirical body of evidence on what can be done to improve service delivery. We view this evidence through an analytical framework emphasizing the agency problems between citizens, politicians and bureaucrats. Correspondingly, the course is divided into four sections. We will first focus on how democratic institutions select and constrain politicians. Second, we will explore issues of bureaucratic selection and incentives affecting bureaucrats. Third, we will review evaluations of specific reforms aimed at strengthening institutions, promoting accountability, and improving service delivery. In a final section, we will explore the interactions between governance, development, and political conflict. This section emphasizes cases where subnational conflict reflects a violent competition for legitimate political control. This discussion also will relate modern efforts at state building to classical philosophical and political discussions on the creation of legitimate states. We will also focus extensively on empirical case studies of policies, reforms, and innovations that have proven effective.


10 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures and 1 hour of classes in the ST.

There will be a reading week in Week 6 of LT only (no lectures or classes that week).

This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual classes, live streamed (recorded) lectures, and some flipped content delivered as short online videos.

Formative coursework

weekly challenges and feedback will be given on two.

Indicative reading

  • Acemoglu, Daron and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail, Crown Books, 2012;
  • Besley, Timothy and Torsten Persson, Pillars of Prosperity: The Political Economics of Development Clusters, Princeton University Press, 2011


10% - Class Participation

10% - Lecture Attendance

80% - Final Essay (1,500 Words)

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Economics

Total students 2020/21: 53

Average class size 2020/21: 18

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication