Society, politics and institutions: stability and change

A.Y. 2021/2022
Overall hours
SECS-P/01 SPS/04
Learning objectives
The course aims at
- introducing students to the fundamental tools for the analysis of politics and institutions;
- providing knowledge of the main issues discussed in contemporary philosophy of the social sciences, with particular emphasis on social ontology and rational choice theory.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the course the students will have acquired
- some basic skills in the formation and use of scientific concepts and theories;
- some basic analytical and theoretical tools for understanding and studying politics and institutions in their social contexts as well as knowledge of some causal mechanisms typically recurring in such contexts;
- the ability of conducting "power analyses" of social and political situations;
- the ability to identify and interpret broad dynamics of political and institutional change in a historical and comparative perspective;
- substantive systematic knowledge of the "European model" (market economy, liberal democracy, the welfare state and European integration) and the challenges now facing it;
- the capacity to understand the theories that philosophers, psychologists, biologists and economists have put forward to explain the emergence of institutions;
- knowledge of the cognitive skills that allow human beings to engage in coordination and cooperation, on a scale of complexity that is unknown in the natural world;
- the ability to analyse and critically assess the main arguments brought in favour and against different views concerning the nature and functions of institutions, and the emergence of cooperation;
- the capacity to identify the ways in which these debates may be resolved, and how their solutions may contribute to scientific progress and understanding;
- the capacity to present the main arguments independently, satisfying the main requirements of scholarly writing.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
First trimester
UNIT 1: Due to the COVID-19 emergency, for the current academic year teaching will be held in remote only on the MS Teams platform. Most lectures will be synchronous. The instructor will present the topic of the day and stimulate discussion.
An extra synchronous session will be held every other week and dedicated specifically to Q&A. Participation to extra Q&A sessions is elective.
Readings (strictly required before class) will cover both analytical and substantive issues related to the topics presented in each class.
Students are required to attend at least 16 sessions to be eligible for taking the final test and 8 sessions to take the mid-term test.
The course has a webpage ( which includes the syllabus, course materials and other information. The slides used for each lecture will be gradually uploaded after classes. You are invited to check the webpage regularly.
PPPA students are required to take both unit 1 and unit 2. Students for other degree courses and Erasmus students (outside PPPA) can take unit1 as a freestanding 6CFU course.
Written exams will be carried out in the classroom, as foreseen by the current regulations. In order to take exams students must show a valid Green Pass. If regulations do not allow written exams to be carried out in the classroom, the written exam will take place using the Moodle SEB technology prepared by the Didactic Services and Technologies Office. The assessment criteria, on the other hand, are umodified compared to the traditional methods of verifying learning.

UNIT 2: All lectures will be delivered in class and all students are warmly invited to attend. Attending students must carry a valid Green Pass and must book a seat in advance of each lecture using the university app. Every lecture will be streamed online via Teams for those students who cannot find a seat or cannot attend for other reasons. The lectures will remain available for a few days and then will be permanently removed from the platform.
Prerequisites for admission
Assessment methods and Criteria
Classes will start with short lectures by the instructor, followed by discussions. The final exam will consist of a test with multiple choice and open questions. Evaluation will be based on both participation and the test score.
Unit 1
Course syllabus
Detailed outline
Week 1-
What is politics? What are institutions?
· Concepts and conceptions
· Power and political production

Week 2 -
What are institutions? Does politics need a space?
· Political institutions
· Territorial and membership boundaries

Week 3 -
Does politics need a space? The role of "bounding"
· How were nation-states built?
· Borders and citizenship

Week 4 -
Is politics inherently coercive? Varieties of "binding"
· The monopolization of coercive resources
· Direct rule and the role of violence
· Non-coercive constriction
· Government or governance? The shadow of hierarchy

Week 5 -
Compound and multilevel polities: how can they keep together? - I
· Lessons from the U.S.
· What is the EU?

Week 6 -
Does solidarity matter for polity maintenance? The role of "bonding"
· What is the EU? (continued)
· Social sharing as a political "glue".
· "Caritas" and "civitas": the roots of the European social model
· From "fraternity" to solidarity

Week 7 -
Does politics require a "demos"? The autonomy of politics

· A variety of institutional spheres
· Religion and science: do they need politics?
· Culture, identity and nationalism
· Political ethics

Week 8 -
Mid-term test

Week 9 -
Political conflicts: a mixed blessing?
· Social cleavages
· Politicization(s)
· Conflicts and institutions

Week 10 -
Solidarity beyond the nation state
· Globalization and interdependence
· European integration

Final test
Teaching methods
Attending students. Evaluation will be based on session participation, the mid-term and the final test scores. The mid term test will consist of a set of multiple choice questions on the readings. The final test will also include a few multiple choice questions and in addition a short essay. The dates of the tests will be communicated on the first day and will be posted on the course webpage on ariel.
The mid term result and the final grade of unit 1 will be communicated by mail to each student. For PPPA students, the grade of unit1 must be averaged with the grade of unit2. The averaged grade will appear on your formal records through these steps:
1. passing successfully the tests of both unit 1 and unit 2 (>18) and receiving both the unit grades and the averaged grade - the latter will be included in the mail communicating the grade of the second of the two tests (be it unit 1 or 2);
2. registering the averaged grade during the first formal exam session ("appello d'esame") available (dates to be communicated) for either unit 1 or unit 2.
Non-PPPA attending students taking only unit 1 can register the grade at the first available exam session ("appello d'esame") of unit 1 itself.

Non attending students (less than 16 sessions or no sessions at all) have a different reading list. The exam will consist of a sit-down test (multiple and open questions) on the days of formal "appelli di esame".
Teaching Resources
Readings for attending students
· M. Ferrera, Togetherness: polity and politics (to be provided)
· M.Ferrera, EU solidarity: a political justification (to be provided)
· M. Stoppino, What is politics (to be provided)
· Week-specific readings (to be provided in advance of sessions on the course website)

Readings for non-attending students
Students who will not be able to attend at least 16 sessions (2 hrs each) of the course will have to take a separate sit-down test. For dates contact dr. Gianluca Pozzoni. The test will consist of both multiple choice and open questions, based on the following readings:
· S.Bartolini, The Political, ECPR Press, 2018
· M.Ferrera, The Boundaries of Welfare, Oxford University Press, 2005
· L.Van Middleaar, Passage to Europe, Yale, Yale University Press
Recommended (for those who have no prior knowledge of the two topics)
Usherwood and Pinder, The European Union: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2018
M.Ferrera, The Welfare State, in International Encyclopedia of Political Science, 2019 (to be provided by the instructor)
Unit 2
Course syllabus
- Individualismo e teoria della scelta razionale
- Convenzioni e problemi di coordinazione
- Il problemi della cooperazione
- L'evoluzione della cooperazione
- Norme sociali
- Intenzionalità collettiva
- La teoria delle regole costitutive
Teaching methods
Lectures, seminar discussions
Teaching Resources
The final list of material can be found on the Ariel website of the course ( Among the main texts:
* Weber, M. (1921) "The Interpretive Understanding of Social Action", in Readings in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, edited by M. Brodbeck. Macmillan, pp. 19-33.
* Guala, F. (2016) Understanding Institutions, Princeton University Press, Ch. 2 ("Games")
* Lewis, D. (1969) Convention. Blackwell, selected paragraphs from Chs. 1 and 2.
* Peterson, M. (ed. 2015) The Prisoner's Dilemma. Cambridge University Press (Introduction).
* Handout on Repeated Games
* Camerer, C. F., & Fehr, E. (2004) "Measuring social norms and preferences using experimental games: A guide for social scientists", in J. Henrich et al (eds.) Foundations of Human Sociality, Oxford University Press.
* Frank, R. H. (1988) Passions within Reason, Norton (Ch.3: "A Theory of Moral Sentiments")
* Alexander, J. M. (2019) "Evolutionary Game Theory", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [online], especially sections 1,2,3,5.
* Okasha, S., (2013) "Biological Altruism", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philoso-phy…
* Bicchieri, C. (2006) The Grammar of Society, Cambridge University Press, Ch. 1 ("The rules we live by"). [S&G, ariel]
* Gilbert, M. (1990) "Walking Together: A Paradigmatic Social Phenomenon", Midwest Studies in Philosophy 15: pp. 1-14.
* Searle, J. (2005) "What Is an Institution?", Journal of Institutional Economics 1: 1-22
* Guala, F. and Hindriks, F. (2015) "A Unified Social Ontology", Philosophical Quarterly 165 (2015): 177-201.
Unit 1
SPS/04 - POLITICAL SCIENCE - University credits: 6
Lessons: 40 hours
Professor: Ferrera Maurizio
Unit 2
SECS-P/01 - ECONOMICS - University credits: 6
Lessons: 40 hours
Professor: Guala Francesco
Tuesday 9.30-12.30, by appointment
Department of Philosophy, via Festa del Perdono 7, Cortile Ghiacciaia, top floor