Designing a course on ID: Syllabus collection

Any course on the role of institutions in development has to cross disciplinary barriers. Since most social sciences have something to say on this topic, there are a lot of resources to borrow from. This page presents a collection of syllabi from different universities that can inform syllabus design on institutions and development. This is an expansive list for exploratory purposes. A concise list with my ideal syllabus will be developed elsewhere.

Institutions, policies & development

This course combines development theories and institutional theories and offers a broad selection of topics on institutions and development. When I reviewed courses in 2008, this was one of the most broadly defined course, something that I strongly recommend.

Course blurb: ‘The quality of institutions’ is now said to exercise a crucial influence on the prospects for development, and this course aims both to interrogate this claim through analysis of different paths of economic growth and change across the developing world, and in regard to public administration and development management. The course examines development policies and institutional theories, the politics of institutions and state formation, and the relationships between political systems, institutions and patterns of development. Topics to be covered are: Arguments About Development: the Washington Consensus and After; Stories about Economic Growth; Ideas about Institutions; Institutions and Economic Development; Politics and Institutions; State-Building and Public Management; Democratisation; Democracy and Development; Decentralisation; Social Capital, Democracy and Development; States and Development: Case Studies.

Field exam readings on political science

Department of political science, Yale University has posted the required readings for field exams in political science. These reading lists are well organised and comprehensive. Since they have a good selection of canonical readings on many important topics they offer an excellent starting point on political institutions. The lists cover political economy, philosophy, democratic theories, comparative politics and other topics.


Institutional economics

Courses on institutional economics emphasise on different issues like institutional change and economic performance, economic history, game theory, transaction costs, organisational behaviour, international development, political economy, etc. A good collection of courses is available here.

Collective action

In my opinion collective action is the most important driver of institutional change. Collective action and social movement theories draw from many social science disciplines and so offer a rich perspective. Further, a lot of multimedia resources are available that can be used in teaching, which should make the course interesting for students. I recommend the syllabus by John Burdick for a quick introduction to collective action theories. The readings are easily accessible and cover many perspectives.

Course blurb: Drawing from anthropology, sociology, geography, political science, and other disciplines, this course will help you understand why, when and how collective action for social change occurs. The course will place a special emphasis on how collective action is generated by and reshapes culture at the local, regional, national, and transnational levels. A key part of the course is participation in an activist campaign role-play that develops over the course of two months.

Social choice and welfare

Institutions are fundamentally about social choice and collective goals. Amartya Sen has made seminal contributions to issues of social choice. A course he offers with Foster at Harvard University offers an excellent introduction to basic issues in social choice.

Course blurb: A basic course in social choice theory, its intellectual foundations, and its applications, particularly in welfare economics


Sociological theories

Ideas of social theorists like Weber, Marx, Durkheim and Foucault have shaped thinking about institutions pervasively. It is impossible to escape their ideas. This course by Jackie Orr provides an introduction to social theorists who have shaped ideas in social sciences fundamentally. Unfortunately, the course does not cover theorists like Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and a few others who have been highly influential in ideas about institutions.

Course blurb: This course is both an advanced introduction to the animating concepts and questions in sociological theory, and an intellectual history that situates theories of society within concrete political, cultural, and economic contexts. Both these aims constitute impossible tasks for a single semester’s syllabus. So this course is a necessarily selective and incomplete attempt to be broad-ranging and comprehensive. Our focus is primarily limited to the works of European and North American authors over the last 150 years. Questions we will bring to the readings include: What role do ‘science’ and ‘objectivity’ play in the theoretical imagination of sociologists? What theoretical stories are told about the relations between individual bodies/experiences, and broader social structures or forces? How is power theorized? How does the theory address (or ignore) gender, racial/ethnic, class, sexual, or national differences? How are such differences theorized in relation to structures of power or the production of knowledge? What are the epistemological assumptions of the theory: what gets to count as ‘real,’ ‘true’ or ‘valuable’ knowledge, and why? What aspects of the social world does the theory make central and visible, and what aspects does it exclude, erase or render invisible? Finally, how can contact with this intellectual history usefully influence our own practices of research and sociological storytelling? And how do we begin to name the political and economic, cultural and historical, biographical and embodied contexts shaping our own theoretical desires?

I also recommend a course by Allan Macfarlane available in You Tube.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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