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The Digital State


Admission requirements

This course is only open to Bachelor students of Public Administration (DDG).


This course looks at how digital technologies are changing the role of the state. The advent of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) (and more recently, emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence) have dramatically altered what the state governs as well as how it governs. The classic conceptualisation of a monolithic top-down Nation State is no longer sufficient to justify legitimacy and survival, and public administrations are now forced to make reforms and share power with many other actors. Technology also displaces some functions of the state by making them increasingly automated.

The course traces recent historical developments up to the present. It introduces students to several conceptualisations of the State derived from digital government theory, such as the Network State, the Virtual State, and the Surveillance State. Drawing from a diversity of key digital technologies, innovations and geographic regions, students will learn how those technologies have contributed to the development of the contemporary state, how scholars have interpreted and learnt from those developments, and how they feed into current debates about digital technology policy and the future of the state.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the historical evolution of the Digital State.

  • Explain public sector reforms and paradigms (e.g., digital-era governance, smart governance…) linked to digitalisation.

  • Discuss the advantages, challenges, and limitations of technology for the public sector, linking them to some of the main concepts of political and administrative sciences (such as power, legitimacy, biases…).

  • Critically debate major policy consequences of the evolution of the Digital State such as environmental sustainability, the digital divide, and surveillance.


On the right side of the programme front page of the studyguide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of Instruction

The course follows a mixed lecture approach, in which the instructor uses sections of the class for lectures and at other times leads the students in group discussions and activities. During the meetings, the instructor will cover mandatory readings.

The course load is 140 hours, distributed as follows:

Lectures (7 lectures, 2 hours each) = 14 hours
Assessment (1 final written exam, 3 hours + 'inzage' + four small assignments) = 21 hours
Self-study (readings, preparation for classes, and final exam) = 105 hours

Assessment method

The course consists of a final written exam (80%) and four individual assignments occuring in five out of the seven weeks (20%). Students who score below 5.5 on the written exam need to take a resit. The four smaller assignments can score lower than 5.5 and still be compensated for by a higher score in the written exam in order to pass the course.

Partial grades are only valid in the current academic year; partial grades will not remain valid after the exam and the resit of the course.

Reading list

A bibliography of required reading will made available on Brightspace. Students are not required to purchase any literature for the course.


First year students will be enrolled in this course by the administration. You can view your personal schedule in MyTimetable after logging in.

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. After enrolment for the course in MyStudymap you will be automatically enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.

After registration for an exam you still need to confirm your attendance via MyStudymap. If you do not confirm, you will ultimately be de-registered and you will not be allowed to take the exam.
More information on registration via MyStudymap can be found on this page.


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