Discretion and paternalism
Spring - Irregular
Objectives and Content
Societies and states are at a crossroad in how citizens and individuals are treated and how their rights are respected and protected. Why is this happening? One interesting hypothesis launched by political scientist Bo Rothstein and others, is that the reason for decline in trust and political turmoil is that governments have failed doing their job securing welfare for their citizens and residents. Too many people do not have sufficient quality in life and do not see a prosperous future for their children. They are experiencing that the state is failing them. Thus, a main goal for this course is to examine the role of welfare policies and practices to understand the legitimacy problems that we face in modern states. Specifically, we will examine two objectives in the course: 1) unlock the black box of discretionary decision-making in courts and welfare state services, 2) examine the role paternalism has in justifying restrictions of individuals and citizens freedom.
Judges, doctors, teachers, social workers, child protection staff, refugee employees, police, to mention a few, makes decision on behalf of the government that often are controversial and consequential, with huge impact on individual's lives. These public employees have authority to exercise considerable power over individuals, such as sentence people to prison; expel migrant families and children from the country; grant unemployment benefit; give aid to re-training; remove a child at risk from his/her parents; decide to investigate a case or dismiss it, and the list can go on and on. For us individuals and citizens, these state agents, can facilitate an expansion of our freedom and ability to act, but they clearly also can be restrictive and intrusive for those that are in contact with the welfare state and public authorities. The possibility these officials have to influence our lives is enormous, but we know far too little about how the discretionary power is exercised and justified. What authority are officials granted, and how well is the power exercised? How can we explain differences in discretionary decisions, and is difference always a problem? How are restrictions on citizens and individuals' freedom justified? What is the population´s view on the ongoing polices and values underpinning our welfare state?
In this state of the art course, we will examine the prevailing theories on discretion and paternalism, and connect them to ongoing contemporary debates and challenges in modern welfare states. We will conduct a population study on an issue chosen by the student group, and analyze the results during the course. Students will have the opportunity to engage in ongoing research projects, and international guest lecturers will be invited.
A student who has completed the course should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:
- Knowledge about the central theories on discretion
- Knowledge about the central theories on paternalism
- Familiar with the literature on main challenges in modern welfare states
- Basic insight into decision making theories and motivation of actors
- Rudimentary knowledge on population studies
- Awareness of how international research projects are conducted
- Ability to present the major theories on discretion and paternalism
- Increased competence in discussing and reflecting on the relevance of the theoretical concepts for our understanding of the welfare state and its challenges
- Improved skills to connect theory to empirical research issues in welfare states
- Training in conducting an empirical research design and analyse results
- Training in collaboration with peers to solve research questions
- Analytical skills and competency in political science and public administration
- Enhanced competence to discuss academic literature with peers and others
- Improved ability to read scholarly literature instrumentally and critically
- Improved ability to identify relevant research questions in social sciences
- Improved competency to write an analytical paper
Required Previous Knowledge
Students must have completed a bachelor's degree in political science or an equivalent (subject to approval by the administration of the Department of Government), or a bachelor´s degree in Social Sciences, Pshycology or Law.
Access to the Course
The course gives priority to students accepted to the Master's programme in Administration and organization theory and the students accepted to the Master's programme in public administration (MPA). Students accepted to other master's programmes in Social Sciences, Pshycology and Law can sign up if there are places left. Maximum students per course is fifteen (15) students. If the number of students registered for a course is five or less, the Department may consider offering the course in seminar format.
Teaching and learning methods
Lectures, discussions and guest lecturers
At five or less registered students, course activities and teaching will be in the form of seminars and comprise lesser extent of activities than as outlined in the timetable.
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
Submission and presentation of a reflection paper of a scientific paper, maximum 1200 words. Full attendance to no less than 80 % of the class meetings is required to be able to sit for exam.
The compulsory assignment must be approved in order to take the exam. Approved compulsory assignments are valid in the current and following two semesters.
Forms of Assessment
Written essay on topic of own choosing that utilized literature from the course syllabus, approximately 4000 words.
All courses are evaluated according to UiB's system for quality assurance of education.
Department of Government at the Faculty of Social Sciences has the administrative responsibility for the course and the study programme.