Society, politics and institutions: stability and change

A.A. 2019/2020
Crediti massimi
Ore totali
SECS-P/01 SPS/04
Obiettivi formativi
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.
Risultati apprendimento attesi
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.
Programma e organizzazione didattica

Edizione unica

Primo trimestre
Modalità di verifica dell’apprendimento e criteri di valutazione
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
Detailed outline
Week 1
What is politics? What are institutions?
· Concepts and conceptions
· Power and political production

· M. Ferrera, Togetherness, section 1
· Readings from Aristotle, Hobbes, Weber, Fukuyama, Lasswell, Easton
(materials available on the course website)

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

· M. Ferrera, Togetherness, section 2
· Readings from Marshall, Hirschman, Rokkan, Ferrera
(materials available on the course website)

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

· M. Ferrera, Togetherness, section 3
· Readings from Marshall, Hirschman, Rokkan, Ferrera
(materials available on the course website)

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

· M. Ferrera, Togetherness, section 4
· Readings from Gompert&Binnendijk, Tilly, Jobard, Longley
· Communication from the EU Commission
(materials available on the course website)

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

· Readings from Mercer, Habermas, Ferrera
(materials available on the course website)

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

· Readings from Mercer, Habermas, Ferrera
· Additional readings from Burke, Mair, Achen&Bartels
· M. Ferrera, Togetherness, sections 5 and 6
(materials available on the course website)

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

· Excerpts from Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (1918)
· M. Ferrera, Togetherness, section 7
(materials available on the course website)

Week 8
Political conflicts: a mixed blessing?
· Social cleavages
· Politicization(s)
· Conflicts and institutions
Week 9
Solidarity beyond the nation state
· Globalization and interdependence
· European integration
Week 10
The EU polity: how durable?
· Economic, social and political Europe
· A new deal?
· Citizenship, life chances and the future of politics
Metodi didattici
Classes will start with short lectures by the instructor, followed by discussions. Readings (strictly required before class) will cover both analytical and substantive issues. Students are required to attend at least 16 sessions to be eligible for taking the test. The course has a webpage ( which includes this syllabus, course materials and other information. The slides used in class 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.

Evaluation and grading
Attending students. Evaluation will be based on both class participation and the final test score. The final test will consist of a set of both multiple choice and open questions. The final test for attending students will take place on November 27 at 4.30 pm. The total 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 "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 "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 question) on the days of formal "appelli di esame".
Materiale di riferimento
Readings for attending students
· S.Bartolini, The Political, ECPR Press, 2018
· M. Ferrera, Togetherness: polity and politics (to be provided)
· M. Stoppino, What is politics (to be provided)
· Week-specific short readings (to be provided)

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
Unit 2
Programme and readings:
1. Individualism: the classic debate
· Watkins, J. W. (1957) "Historical explanation in the social sciences", British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 8: 104-117. [in electronic library, also in M&M]
· Sawyer, K. (2002) "Nonreductive Individualism: Part I - Supervenience and Wild Disjunction", Philosophy of the Social Sciences 32: 537-59 [library, S&G].

2. Individualism in practice: rational choice and game theory
· Guala, F. (2016) Understanding Institutions, Princeton University Press, Ch. 2 ("Games") [ariel]
· Schelling, T. C. (2010) "Game Theory: A Practitioner's Approach", Economics & Philosophy 26: 27-46. [library]
3. Coordination and convention
· Lewis, D. (1969) Convention. Blackwell, selected paragraphs from Chs. 1 and 2. [S&G, ariel]
· Schelling, T. C. (1957) "Bargaining, Communication, and Limited War", Conflict Resolution 1, 19-36. [library]
4. Dilemmas of cooperation
· Peterson, M. (ed. 2015) The Prisoner's Dilemma. Cambridge University Press (Introduction). [ariel]
· Dawes, R.M. and Thaler, R.H. (1988) "Anomalies: Cooperation", Journal of Economic Perspectives 2: 187-97. [library]
5. The evolution of cooperation
· Trivers, R.L. (1971) "The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism", Quarterly Review of Biology 46, pp. 35-57. [library]
· Alexander, J. M. (2009) "Evolutionary Game Theory", in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
6. Reciprocity, weak and strong
· Frank, R. H. (1993) "The Strategic Role of the Emotions", Rationality and Society 5, 160-184. [ariel]
· Binmore, K. (2004) "Reciprocity and the Social Contract", Politics, Philosophy & Economics 3: 5-35. [library]
7. Social norms
· Bicchieri, C. (2006) The Grammar of Society, Cambridge University Press, Ch. 1 ("The rules we live by"). [S&G, ariel]
· Southwood, N., & Eriksson, L. (2011) "Norms and Conventions", Philosophical Explorations 14: 195-217. [library]
8. Collective intentionality
· Gilbert, M. (2008) "Social Convention Revisited". Topoi 27: 5-16. [library, S&G]
· Tomasello, M. & Rakoczy, H. (2003) "What Makes Human Cognition Unique? From Individual to Shared to Collective Intentionality", Mind & Language 18, 121-147. [library]
9. Constitutive rules
· Searle, J. (2005) "What Is an Institution?", Journal of Institutional Economics 1: 1-22 [library, S&G].
· Smit, J. P., Buekens, F., and du Plessis, S. (2011) "What is Money? An Alternative to Searle's Institutional Facts." Economics and Philosophy 27: 1-22. [library]
10. Rules and equilibria
· Guala, F. and Hindriks, F. (2015) "A Unified Social Ontology", Philosophical Quarterly 165 (2015): 177-201. [library]
· Searle, J. R. (2015) "Status Functions and Institutional Facts: Reply to Hindriks and Guala." Journal of Institutional Economics 11: 507-514. [library, ariel]
Metodi didattici
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.
Materiale di riferimento
Textbooks and anthologies
There are several excellent textbooks, which are not compulsory but may be useful as background reading and bibliographic resources:
· Risjord, M. (2014) Philosophy of Social Science: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge.
· Rosenberg, A. (2012) Philosophy of Social Science. Westview/Routledge, 4th edition.
· Kincaid, H. (1996) Philosophical Foundations of the Social Sciences. Cambridge University Press.
These anthologies collect classic papers on individualism, reduction, norms, and more:
· Steel, D. & Guala, F. (eds. 2011) The Philosophy of Social Science Reader. Routledge. [S&G]
· Martin, M. and McIntyre, L. (eds. 1994) Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science. MIT Press. [M&M]
The following volumes include a number of interesting papers on social ontology:
· Schmidt, F. F. (ed. 2003) Socializing Metaphysics. Rowman & Littlefield.
· Mantzavinos, C. (ed. 2009) Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Cambridge University Press.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( is another valuable resource, see for example the entries on "Social Ontology", "Methodological Individualism", "Methodological Holism in the Social Sciences", "Multiple Realizability", "Social Institutions", "Social Norms", "Convention", "Game Theory", "Prisoner's Dilemma", "Evolutionary Game Theory", "Collective Intentionality", and more.
The course syllabus will take shape as we proceed, and the final bibliography will be provided only at the end of term. The following list of readings is only indicative and may well change.
Moduli o unità didattiche
Unit 1
Lezioni: 40 ore

Unit 2
Lezioni: 40 ore
Docente: Guala Francesco

Martedì: 14.00-17.00.
Dipartimento di Studi del Lavoro e del Welfare - Stanza 10 secondo piano
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Dipartimento di Filosofia, via Festa del Perdono 7, Cortile Ghiacciaia, ultimo piano