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Bachelor Project POL/IP/IRO (online only) - Fall 2021


This Bachelor Project will be offered online only, for both IRO/POL/IP students. For information on enrollment please contact the SSC

nr. 20: 'Power and Governance'- Jonathan Phillips

Why are some societies governed better than others? Even within the same country, the quality of public education, rates of vaccination, respect for the rule of law, planning to tackle climate change and levels of corruption can vary enormously. And every day we see in the news examples of how apparently bad policy decisions cost lives and waste resources.
But what does ‘governance’ really mean, when is it effective, and where does it come from? This Bachelor’s Project seeks to understand how the exercise of political power affects the quality of governance in both developed and developing countries.
The initial seminar component of the project will first introduce you to the concepts and arguments political scientists use to address these questions:
First, we will ask what types of governance are effective, and how we can measure ‘good governance’. Is good governance defined by specific policies, by a set of formal rules, or by the actors involved in decision-making? Does it look more like an autonomous cadre of expert technocrats, or representative and active participation by citizens? How do we know governance even matters?
Second, drawing from ongoing debates we will discover the limits to the good governance agenda – why adopting the latest policies or imposing democracy and institutions of accountability often fails to improve social outcomes. This will force us to consider how actors with power – politicians, bureaucrats and sometimes citizens – respond to reform efforts in ways which improve or harm the delivery of public services.
Third, we will explore how different configurations and uses of political power contribute to more or less effective governance. Is governance improved when there is more competition or less? When elites have longer or short time horizons? When the public sector is large or small? When political parties are more ideological or more flexible? When interest groups are organized around pluralism or corporatism? When political leaders are men or women? Answering these questions will help us to understand how politicians themselves can be motivated to introduce governance improvements.
In the second part of the project, students will build on this understanding to explore their own research questions on the political factors that drive effective governance. Students’ projects should focus on a specific dimension of governance and develop a research design to understand and explain variation in that dimension. Alternatively, projects could start by identifying variation in the distribution of political power and then evaluating the consequences for governance. Methodologically, the project is agnostic, and students can develop theses using qualitative or quantitative methods.

Learning Goals

To equip students with the tools and confidence to analyze and explain the quality of governance. Students will also gain practice critiquing concepts and theories, understanding complex patterns of causation, using a range of empirical evidence to isolate plausible explanations, and developing analytical and academic writing skills.


Part I (weeks 1-6): A writing assignment on the assigned readings and a presentation.
Part II (weeks 7-16): BA thesis

Background Literature

Rothstein, Bo. 2011. The Quality of Government: Corruption, Social Trust, and Inequality in International Perspective. United Kingdom: University of Chicago Press,
Marcus André Melo, Njuguna Ng’ethe and James Manor. 2012. Against the Odds: Politicians, Institutions and the Struggle Against Poverty. New York: Columbia University Press.