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Institutions and the Search for Social and Economic Order - PPE00002H

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  • Department: Philosophy, Politics and Economics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. James Choy
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2024-25

Module summary

All human groups larger than a few people require governance institutions to manage social and economic relationships and prevent disorder. We will study these institutions using tools from game theory and case studies from a variety of times and places.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

Institutions set the rules that govern social and economic relationships. Different human groups have designed a wide variety of different kinds of governance institutions. We will study these institutions using the tools of game theory as well as case studies from disciplines including economics, politics, anthropology, sociology, history, and law. The groups we study will range from small-scale societies in the Amazon, to pirates on the high seas, to diamond traders in New York City, to the top levels of the Russian and Ukrainian states. We will see that these seemingly very different groups face similar problems, and we will discuss the ways in which institutions designed by these different groups succeed (or sometimes fail) in promoting orderly social interactions. We will apply the lessons we learn from these case studies to analyse governance in contemporary voluntary associations, firms, and states.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Understand the language of game theory as used to study institutions and governance

  • Use this understanding to recognize common problems and solutions across institutional case studies from a wide variety of times and places

  • Independently apply this understanding to analyse novel cases


Task Length % of module mark
Project - 3000 words
N/A 90
Project Outline : Project Outline and annotated bibliography
N/A 10

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Project - 3000 words
N/A 90
Project Outline : Project Outline and annotated bibliography
N/A 10

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their assessment in no later than 25 working days. They will have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s regular feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

Napoleon A. Chagnon (2012), Yanomamo: The Fierce People, Legacy Edition, Wadsworth Publishing

Peter T. Leeson (2007), “An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization,” Journal of Political Economy 115:6

Lisa Bernstein (1992), “Opting out of the Legal System: Extralegal Contractual Relations in the Diamond Industry,” Journal of Legal Studies 21:1

Keith Darden (2001), “Blackmail as a Tool of State Domination: Ukraine Under Kuchma,” East European Constitutional Review, 10:2/3

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.