GV4L6      Half Unit
Political Economy of Inequality

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Pavithra Suryanarayan


This course is available on the MSc in Political Science (Political Behaviour), MSc in Political Science (Political Science and Political Economy), MSc in Public Policy and Administration and MSc in Regulation. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

At the heart of the study of politics is a question about who gets what and when. Consequently, inequality features as a central theme in the discipline. Scholars have studied how inequality shapes democratization, redistribution, voting behaviour, and how the institutions of welfare and taxation in turn shape inequality. More recently, scholars have started topay attention to how inequality across and within ethnicities, races, and gender may matter to political outcomes. The centrality of inequality is reflected in the significant increase in quantity and quality of research on this subject over the past two decades. In this course we will cover the following topics:

  • Normative foundations and conceptual complexities involved in the study of inequality
  • Measures of inequality
  • Inequality in a comparative perspective: evolution over time and across countries
  • Economic explanations for the changing patterns of inequality over the past two centuries – globalization, technological change
  • Historical institutions and the persistence of Inequality
  • The political economy of redistribution – Taxation, redistribution and the growth of welfare state
  • Identity politics and redistribution – class, status, ethnicity/race and gender
  • Beyond economic inequality: inequality in welfare, happiness and health
  • Educational inequality, mobility and politics
  • The constraints to addressing inequality: global market integration, state capacity and Robinhood Paradox.


25 hours of seminars in the AT.

There will be a reading week in AT Week 6.

Weekly classes will last 2.5 hours with a lecture component that will vary each week. Earlier in the term as we engage with definitions, concepts and measurement the lectures will comprise around 30-45 mins of class time. Later in the term, the lectures will provide a broad over view of the topic and set the terms of the seminar discussion and will likely run for around 15-20 mins of class time.

Formative coursework

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

The formative coursework comprises a 1000-word response essay written for the week that the student serves as a discussant in class. The lecturer will assign which week the student will write about.

Indicative reading

  • Ansell, B.W., 2010. From the Ballot to the Blackboard:The Redistributive Political Economy of Education, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Roemer, J.E. et al., 2009. The Oxford Handbook of Economic Inequality. 1st ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Atkinson, Anthony B, and François Bourguignon, 2000. Handbook of Income Distribution. Vol. 1, Oxford: Elsevier Science & Technology.


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the period between AT and WT.

The summative assessment comprises a 4000-word final essay due in the period between AT and WT, based on a topic on inequality.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2022/23: 13

Average class size 2022/23: 13

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

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
  • Communication