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RATIONALITY AND COLLECTIVE ACTION: formulate your own critique of its strengths and weaknesses.

You are required to write an original short essay of 1000 words based on the following guidelines:

  • In this short essay, you will unpack the chosen framework with three goals: (1) identify its strengths as a theoretical model for policy analysis; (2) highlight its weaknesses as a standalone analytical tool; (3) provide a brief recommendation of how you would improve upon the basic framework.
  • Your analysis and implications will draw upon materials from lectures and the readings included in this handbook: you can use as much or as little of the source material as you deem necessary, as long as it is enough to support your argumentation. Unsubstantiated claims or faulty arguments will detract from your final mark.



You must clearly acknowledge sources, even when not directly quoting a sentence but using somebody else’s ideas. After all, an intellectual debt is owed if ideas are borrowed. The best way of avoiding the risk of forgetting whether an idea is yours or someone else’s is by taking care when making notes, especially when you are cutting and pasting from the internet. Make sure that what is borrowed from someone else and what is original work is clearly indicated. Any doubt about the proper use of referencing should be discussed with your tutors. Always make the formal reference to the particular source that you used, not to the original reference if that is different. You get no credit for cluttering your essay up with a dozen different references, if you got them all from the same secondary source.


When presenting your bibliography, you should make sure that the entries are presented in alphabetical order by author’s surname. [Note that the highlighting referred to below can be by underlining, emboldening or italicising. The last is preferable, if possible]. This is how individual entries should appear:


Name(s) of author(s) ~ Year of publication (in brackets) ~ Title of book, highlighted ~ Edition, if not the first ~

Number of volumes, if more than one ~ Place of publication ~ Name of publisher e.g. Pascall, G. (1986), Social Policy: a Feminist Analysis. London, Tavistock

Articles/chapters within books

Name(s) of author(s) ~ Year of publication (in brackets) ~ Title of chapter/article in ~Author, or editor of book ~ Title of book, highlighted ~ Edition, if not the first ~ Volume Number, if multi-volumed work/series ~ Place of publication ~ Page numbers

e.g. Lomax, W. (1991) ‘Hungary from Karism to democracy: the successful failure of reform Communism’ in String, D. (ed.) The Impact of Gorbachev, London, Pinter.

Articles in periodicals

Name(s) of author(s) ~ (Date) ~ Title of article ~ Title of periodical, highlighted ~ Volume and part number ~ Page numbers

e.g. Page, R. (1987), ‘Child Abuse: the smothering of an issue – a British perspective’, Children and Youth Services Review, vol. 9.1 : 51-65

Official papers

Name of report/department* ~ (Date) ~ Title of document highlighted ~ Command number/volume number if applicable ~ Place of publication ~ Publisher

* If the report is not known by name, it can be cited and referenced by its command number. Please note that there have been several series of these, with distinctive abbreviations.

e.g. Beveridge Report, (1942), Social Insurance and Allied Services, Cmd 6404, London, HMSO; or Cm (1990) Broadcasting in the 90s: Competition, Choice and Quality, London, HMSO.

Internet source or web page

Name(s) of author(s) or of organisation publishing the document ~ (Date) ~ Title of document, either in quotes or highlighted ~ Internet web reference, as full as possible

e.g. The World Bank (April 1998) ‘Helping countries combat corruption: the role of the World Bank’, http://www.Worldbank.org/html/extdr/6orrupt/cor02.htm.


Why are some policies adopted while others are relegated to the dustbin of history? Why are some policies adopted, legislated, even launched publicly, but then never implemented? In this course we approach policy analysis as a political process in which multiple actors and visions interact to define problems and advocate solutions to pressing development problems. We will look behind institutional trajectories – which often take decades to unfold – in order to investigate the specific choices that are made my leaders and bureaucrats. We will also look between the macro and the micro: not the level of aggregate socioeconomic trends, nor the level of individual action, but the meso-level of organized action and policy contestation.


-Carothers, Thomas, and Diane de Gramont. Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2013. Chapters 1 and 2.

-Hall, Peter A, and Rosemary C. R Taylor. ‘Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms’. Political Studies 44, no. 5 (1 December 1996): 936–57.

-Helmke, Gretchen, and Steven Levitsky. ‘Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda’. Perspectives on Politics 2, no. 04 (2004): 725–40. Especially pages 725-32.

-Lowi, Theodore J. ‘American Business, Public Policy, Case-Studies, and Political Theory’. World Politics 16, no. 04 (July 1964): 677–715. Especially pages 688-91 and 713.

-Sabatier, Paul A., ed. Theories of the Policy Process. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007. Chapter 1. Especially pages 3-7.

-World Bank. World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work for Poor People. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2004.


How do governments and other organizations come to adopt the policies that they have? In this lecture we review the most basic and widespread theoretical approach to policymaking: institutional rational choice. This set of theories posits a world of decision-makers who strategically choose the course of action that provides them with the greatest benefit. Rationality is a powerful heuristic that can explain many bottlenecks in development policy, like collective action problems or principal-agent problems. It has also been mainstreamed into development practice through the influence of economists in development organizations. And its core assumptions tend to sneak even into supposedly novel approaches like political settlements. Rationality is the baseline that we will use for every other theoretical framework in this course.

Essential advance reading

-Geddes, Barbara. Politician’s Dilemma: Building State Capacity in Latin America. Berkeley, CA: California University Press, 1994. Chapter 1. Especially pages 7-19.

Further reading

-Acemoglu, Daren, and James C. Robinson. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

-Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and Alastair Smith. ‘A Political Economy of Aid’. International Organization 63, no. 02 (April 2009): 309–40.

-Green, Donald, and Ian Shapiro. Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory: A Critique of Applications in Political Science. Yale University Press, 1996.

-Krueger, Anne O. ‘The Political Economy of the Rent-Seeking Society’. The American Economic Review 64, no. 3 (1 June 1974): 291–303.

-North, Douglass C. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

-Olson, Mancur. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.

-Whitfield, Lindsay, and Lars Buur. ‘The Politics of Industrial Policy: Ruling Elites and Their Alliances’. Third World Quarterly 35, no. 1 (2 January 2014): 126–44.

-World Bank. World Development Report 1997: The State in a Changing World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997

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