COURSE: Ministerial careers

Course content

Whether motivated by the desire to influence policy or other reasons, holding ministerial office is a central ambition of many politicians. This course focuses on competition to attain and retain ministerial office and ministers’ efforts to influence policy while in office in parliamentary and semi-presidential democracies. Who gets into government and who is excluded? Under what conditions do incumbents influence policy? What kinds of parties and ministers are more (and less) durable in government? What happens to these individuals after a spell in government? The course provides students with an appreciation of a set of key actors in democratic systems and the challenges and opportunities they encounter. It is centred on regular reading and participation in class and it places a strong emphasis on recent research literature. It includes several workshop-style sessions that provide students with opportunities to develop their knowledge of the sources of data and case-study information available to them, to apply their substantive and methodological knowledge to the topics covered and to develop a basis for their term paper.

This course may be useful for students who aim to work in government at any level, with politicians or political parties, or in sectors that require a good knowledge of government or a capacity analyse domestic politics in parliamentary democracies (e.g., journalism, law, public affairs).



Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS
Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS

Learning outcome

By the end of the term, students should be able to:

  1. understand some important similarities and differences among ministerial careers and the political systems in which they take place;
  2. source information and data on key aspects of ministerial careers;
  3. compare aspects of ministerial careers and the factors that influence them;
  4. identify current research puzzles and unresolved problems in the literature;
  5. develop solutions to these puzzles and problems.

Preparation for class
You are expected to have read the articles and chapters on this syllabus before coming to each class. Each class (with the exception of workshop sessions and the first and last classes) will feature a brief summary and discussion of two articles by students, as well as a broader discussion of the literature.
Before each of these classes (with the exception of the first and last classes), find one or two cases that illustrate the issues under discussion (e.g., an instance of a ministerial resignation for Session 10) and be prepared to describe them. You can find information on these events in the media, in the literature, or in the sources of information that I will refer to in class. The course takes a comparative perspective, so please try to go beyond the country that you know best!
The course includes some ‘workshop’ sessions, in which we will look at data sources, case selection strategies, and individual cases. Please bring a laptop to these sessions if you have one. Workshop sessions will involve preparation and group-work. Some workshop sessions can be used to develop your final written assignment. Details to be announced.

I have identified some core readings for each class. They are posted on Absalon. If you are having trouble finding a reading, let me know. If you want to pursue a topic covered below in more depth, use these readings as a starting point. I will suggest additional readings in class. Given the course’s focus on recent research literature, there are several older texts not on the reading list that you may find useful (e.g., Blondel 1985, Blondel and Thiébault 1991). I will highlight these for you in class. If there is something that we do not cover that you would like to read about, I am available to advise you.


Session 1. Introduction. Ministers, political careers and democracy

Readings: (Strøm 2000, Dowding and Dumont 2009a, 2014a).


Session 2. Principal-agent relationships, institutions and ministers

See readings for session 1. On cabinet size, see Indridason and Bowler (2014); on prime ministerial power, see Dowding (2013); and read one country study from Dowding and Dumont’s (2009b, 2014b) edited volumes.


Sessions 3 and 4. Who gets in? Ministerial attributes, backgrounds and pathways to office

          Session 3

Parliamentary and non-parliamentary routes to ministerial office (Bergman and Strom 2010, p. tbc, Yong and Hazell 2011).

The role of party, parliament, and regional government membership (Kaiser and Fischer 2009). Also on regional government membership, see Rodríguez-Teruel (2011).


          Session 4

When are non-partisan ministers appointed? (Amorim Neto and Strøm 2006).

Personal votes and selection (Klein and Umit 2016).

Proximity to party preferences and selection (Kam et al. 2010).

Schools attendance among ministerial elites (O’Rourke et al. 2014).


Session 5. Who gets in? Gender and ministerial selection

Readings: (Krook and O’Brien 2012, Bego 2014, Annesley 2015, O’Brien et al. 2015)


Session 6. Inter-party relations and junior ministerial appointments

Readings: (Thies 2001, Lipsmeyer and Pierce 2011, Falcó-Gimeno 2014)


Session 7. Workshop session

  1. An introduction to sources of data on ministers.

  2. Quantitative and qualitative approaches (Lieberman 2005, Bäck and Dumont 2007, Seawright and Gerring 2008).

  3. Answering ‘who gets in?’ questions with available data.


Session 8. Ministers in the policy process

Readings: (Chabal 2003, Alexiadou 2015, Atchison 2015, Esch and Swinkels 2015, Grøn and Salomonsen 2015)


Session 9. Ministers, civil servants and political advisers

Readings: (Connaughton 2010, Meyer-Sahling and Veen 2012, Harris and Rutter 2014, p. tbc, Shaw and Eichbaum 2014, Yong and Hazell 2014, p. tbc).


Session 10. The survival of ministers in office

Readings: (Huber and Martinez-Gallardo 2008, Berlinski et al. 2012, pp. 117–149, Fischer et al. 2012, Hansen et al. 2013, Bright et al. 2015). Tip: start with Fischer et al. 2012.


Session 11. Workshop session: survival in government and exit from government. Research designs, data and cases

Readings: (Bennister and Heppell 2014, Brändström 2015).


Session 12. What happens next?

Parties, ministers and post-incumbency elections (Narud and Valen 2008, Martin 2014).

Post-ministerial careers (Blondel 1991, Theakston 2012, Stolz and Fischer 2014, Claveria and Verge 2015).


Session 13. Final workshop session: sourcing and analysing data for your term paper


Session 14. Review and discussion

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28