IR380      Half Unit
The Politics of Inequality and Development

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Victoria Paniagua


This course is available on the BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and Chinese, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics and International Relations. This course is not available as an outside option. This course is available with permission to General Course students.


Students must have completed International Political Economy (IR206).

Some background knowledge of international political economy, such as that provided in IR206 International Political Economy, will be useful to students taking this course.

Course content

This course examines the interaction between markets and states to understand the causes and consequences of economic development and inequality. We will explore these topics in light of contemporary theoretical, substantive, and methodological debates within the fields of international and comparative political economy. The empirical focus of this course is the developing world. We will cover case studies in a variety of regions, including Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe. However, because the approach of this course is comparative, historical, and analytical, to disentangle patterns in these regions we will also discuss the trajectories of advanced economies such as the United States and England. The course is divided in two main parts. The first one is dedicated to exploring within country income and wealth inequalities. We will address the following questions:

What are the political (and market) forces behind inequality? What can be done to curb down inequality and what is the role of the state in this process? How do citizens’ preferences affect and are affected by inequality? Furthermore, we will examine the political consequences associated with the growing spread of income and wealth inequalities, particularly, its effects on regime type, democratic backsliding, the political influence of the top 1%, and recent trends in political polarization. The second part of the course is devoted to addressing between countries economic inequality, in other words, why are some countries wealthier than others? To answer this question, we will study why some countries have developed earlier (and more) than others and why some have fell behind.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

There will be 10 weekly lectures of one hour each, shared with IR480. In addition, starting in Week 1, lectures will be followed by a weekly one hour class, where the required readings and lecture content will be discussed. Students are expected to read all required readings before attending the lectures and to actively engage during both the lecture and the seminar sessions.

Formative coursework

Formative coursework includes acting as a discussion leader; and submitting a discussion comment and question.

Discussion leader role:

Students will choose 1 (one) week in which they would like to perform as the discussion leader during the seminar session. The discussion leader will: (1) propose a set of 2 or 3 questions related to the required readings for discussion in class; (2) read in advance the pre-seminar comments posted on the Moodle forum (see below) and integrate these into our conversation; (3) moderate the discussion; (4) draw a brief summary/conclusion at the end of the discussion.

Students will choose 4 (four) weeks in which they will submit a brief comment, critique and/or question on the week readings (max. 100 words). It should be uploaded to the seminar group Moodle forum at least 24 hours before the seminar session. These brief comments will be used by the instructor and discussion leader as input for in-class discussion.

Indicative reading

Piketty, T. (2013). Capital in the 21st Century. Harvard University Press. (Chapter 1).

Milanovic, B. (2016). Global inequality: A New Approach for the Era of Globalization. Harvard University Press. (Chapters 1-3).

Lockwood, E. (2021). The international political economy of global inequality. Review of International Political Economy, 28(2), 421-445.

Atkinson, A. (2015). Inequality: What can be done? Harvard University Press (chapters 1-3).

Kuznets, S. (1955). Economic growth and income inequality. The American Economic Review, 45(1), 1-28.

Milanovic, B. (2010). The haves and the have-nots: A brief and idiosyncratic history of global inequality. Basic Books (AZ).


Presentation (10%) in the LT.
Take-home assessment (90%) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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