The Politics of Crisis and Austerity

Course content

This course considers the relationship between economic crises and the cluster of policy solutions known as ‘austerity’.These are issues of great contemporary relevance and urgency, but the course also situates them within a broader historical and theoretical discussion. It asks why austerity is often seen as the most efficacious solution to economic downturn, and considers whether the resort to austerity in the present repeats errors of the past in light of the history of crises of capitalism. The course seeks to understand the intellectual roots of ‘austerity’ and examines the institutional and ideational factors that explain its widespread use by policy-makers in the present period. The course considers whether austerity as a policy package is either compatible with or sustainable under democratic politics. The course examines the social impact of austerity budgeting in areas such as public health and discusses the emergent politics of anti-austerity on both sides of the political spectrum. The course draws mostly on literature from the political science subfields of comparative and international economy. Students will also be asked to read some texts from the literatures in macroeconomics, economic history, sociology and public health.


Draft syllabus

  1. Introduction: the key themes of the course
  2. Economic crises in historical perspective 1
  3. Economic crises in historical perspective 2
  4. Austerity: the default condition of capitalist democracies?
  5. Austerity: the history of an idea
  6. Governing (through?) austerity
  7. Austerity and democracy
  8. Debating austerity
  9. Are we all austerians now?
  10. The social consequences of austerity 1 (social policy and public health)
  11. The social consequences of austerity 2 (gender)
  12.  Embedding austerity
  13. Resisting austerity from the extremes
  14. Conclusions

Bachelor student: 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome

On completion of the course, students should (a) be able to demonstrate familiarity with the main academic and policy debates about the relationship between economic crises and austerity politics; (b) be able to relate concepts and theories about crisis and austerity to concrete empirical cases, both historical and contemporary; (c) be able to make informed, analytical evaluations of rival approaches on questions relating to economic crisis and austerity, and  (d) be able to think critically about the broader analytical significance of debates about economic crisis and austerity to the fields of comparative and international political economy. In examining the relationship between economic crises and austerity, the course asks students to consider a wide range of literature and to assess its significance its importance to questions of contemporary policy relevance in (though not necessarily confined to) Europe.



The course seeks to enhance key analytical and critical skills such as the application of theoretical debates to concrete cases; the development of a clear thesis supported by appropriate forms of evidence; literature searching; problem-solving; comparison; and working with and drawing insight from a range of disciplinary and sub-disciplinary fields.



Students will be encouraged to link scholarly discussions to urgent policy questions. Working with diverse literature will promote students’ ability to interpret and synthesise different positions. Small group work will encourage collaboration and team-building.

Teaching in the first part of the course will be based on lectures and group and class discussions. In the second part of the course, the participants will undertake research for their assignment. Teaching in this part will be based on individual and/or group supervision by the course convener. It is strongly recommended to use this opportunity for individual feedback on your ideas for assignments.

An extensive week-by-week reading list, featuring core reading for each topic will be made available in August 2020. The following list offers an illustration of some of the texts that will be used on the course:


  • Alesina, A. and Tabellini, G. ‘A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt’, Review of Economic Studies 57(3), 1990, pp. 403-414.
  • Ban, C. ‘Austerity versus Stimulus? Understanding Fiscal Policy Change at the International Monetary Fund Since the Great Recession’, Governance 28(2), 2015, pp. 167-183
  • Berry, M. ‘The UK Press and the Deficit Debate’, Sociology Published online before print May 20, 2015 [18], doi: 10.1177/0038038515582158
  • Blyth, M. Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • Bohle, D. ’Responsible Government and Capitalisms Cycles’, West European Politics 37(2), 2014, pp. 288-308.
  • Bordo, M. and James, H ’The European Crisis in the Context of the History of Previous Financial Crises’, Journal of Macroeconomics 39(B), 2014, 275-284.
  • Bramall, R. ‘Popular culture and anti-austerity protest’ Journal of European Popular Culture, 3(1). 2012 pp. 9-22. Available at
  • Burnham, P. ’Depoliticisation: economic crisis and political management’, Policy and Politics 42(2), 2014, pp. 189-206.
  • Clarke, J and Newman, J. ’The Alchemy of Austerity’, Critical Social Policy 32(3), 2015, pp. 299-319
  • Crafts, N. And Mills, T.C. ’Self-defeating austerity? Evidence from the 1930s’, European Review of Economic History doi: 10.1093/ereh/heu024. First published online: February 4, 2015
  • ellepiane-Avellaneda, S. ‘The Political Power of Economic Ideas: The Case of “Expansionary Fiscal Contractions”, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 17(3), 2015, pp. 391-418
  • Eichengreen, B. and Temin, P. ‘The Gold Standard and the Great Depression’, Contemporary European History 9(2), 2000, pp. 183-207 [25] Available at
  • Gigier, N. and Nelson, M. ‘The electoral consequences of welfare state retrenchment: Blame avoidance or credit claiming in the era of permanent austerity?’, European Journal of Political Research 50(1), 2011, pp. 1-23
  • Kaminsky, G.L., Reinhart, C.M. and Vegh, C.A. ‘Journal of Economic Perspectives
  • Karamessini, M. ‘Introduction – women’s vulnerability to recession and austerity: a different crisis, a different context’, in Karamessini, M. and Rubery, J. (eds) The economic crisis and the future for gender equality, Routledge, 2013, pp. 3-16 . Available at
  • Karanikolos, M et al ‘Financial crisis, austerity, and health in Europe’, The Lancet 381(9874), 2013, pp. 1323-1331.
  • Konzelman, S. (2014) ‘The political economics of austerity’, Cambridge Review of Economics 38(4), 701-741.
  • Koronaiou, A. et al ‘
  • Korpi, W and Palme, J ‘New Politics and Class Politics in the Context of Austerity and Globalization: Welfare State Regress in 18 Countries, 1975–95’, American Political Science Review 97(3), 2003.
  • Lethbridge, J.‘Impact of the Global Economic Crisis and Austerity Measures on Women’, Public Services International Research Unit, 2013 (Report) . Available at$file/2012%20crisis-impact%20austerity%20on%20women.pdf
  • Lodge, M and Hood, CInto an Age of Multiple Austerities? Public Management and Public Service Bargains across OECD Countries’, Governance 25(1), 2012, pp. 79-101
  • Mair, P. ‘Bini Smaghi Vs the Parties: Representative Government and Institutional Constraints’, EUI Working Paper Series RSCAS 2011/22, Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies, Florence, 2011. Available at
  • Mair, P. Ruling the Void: the Hollowing Out of Western Democracy (Verso, 2013)
  • üller, G. J ‘The Debate Over Austerity’, International Finance 17(3), 2014, pp. 403-418
  • Neal, L. and Weidenmier, M. ‘Crises in the Global Economy from Tulips to Today’, in Bordo, M.D., Taylor, A.M. and Williamson, J.G. (eds). Globalization in Historical Perspective , University of Chicago Press, 2005, pp. 473-514. Available at
  • Ostry, J.D., Ghosh, A.R. and Espinoza, R. (2015) '
  • Pierson, P. ‘Coping with permanent austerity: welfare state restructuring in affluent democracies’, in Pierson, P. (ed.) The New Politics of the Welfare State, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 410-456
  • Pierson, P. ‘From expansion to austerity: the new politics of taxing and spending’, in Levin, M.A., Landy, M.K. and Shapiro, M. (eds) Seeking the Center: Politics and Policymaking in the New Century, Georgetown University Press, 2001, pp. 54-80.
  • Reinhart, C.M and Rogoff ‘Is the 2007 US Sub-Prime Financial Crisis so Different? An International Historical Comparison’, American Economic Review 98(2), 2008, pp. 339-344.
  • Schäfer, A and Streeck, W. (eds) Politics in the Age of Austerity (Polity 2013)
  • Sen, A. ‘The economic consequences of austerity’, New Statesman 4 June 2015
  • Steinberg, D.A., Koesel, K.J. and Thompson, N.W. ‘Political Regimes and Currency Crises’, Economics and Politics, Article first published online, 3 July 2015 DOI: 10.1111/ecpo.12060
  • Streeck, W. Buying Time: the Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (Verso, 2014)
  • Streeck, W. ‘The Rise of the European Consolidation State’, MPIfG Discussion Paper 15/1 (2015)

Students should have a solid basic understanding of the main approaches to political science and international relations. A background in other social science fields is also valid.



  • Students will be encouraged to discuss with the course convenor their ideas for written assignments from conception to advanced planning stage;
  • There will be regular general discussions of the expectations regarding assignments.
  • Feedback on graded assignments will be available on request.
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No 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


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester

Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Ben Rosamond   (2-6474426b6875306d7730666d)
Saved on the 29-10-2021

Are you BA- or KA-student?

Are you bachelor- or kandidat-student, then find the course in the course catalog for students:

Courseinformation of students