ASTK15355U Course: The politics of Crisis and Austerity

Volume 2015/2016

Elective in the Specialisation "International Relations, Diplomacy and Conflict Studies"

Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS
Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS


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
  2. Economic crises in historical perspective 1
  3. Economic crises in historical perspective 2
  4. Austerity: the history of an idea
  5. The post-2008 global financial crisis and the resort to austerity
  6. Austerity and democratic capitalism: the Gold Standard and the Euro compared
  7. Does austerity ever work? Examining the evidence.
  8. Why austerity? 1: Institutional explanations
  9. Why austerity? 2: Ideational explanations
  10. The social consequences of austerity
  11. Resisting austerity 1: Syriza, Podemos and the new European left
  12. Resisting austerity 2: the rise of the Eurosceptic right
  13. Beyond austerity: the politics of new growth models in Europe
  14. Conclusions
  1. Competency description

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 that are transferable beyond academic study to a wide range of careers. 


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; (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.  


An extensive week-by-week reading list, featuring core and supplementary reading for each topic will be made available in August 2015. The following list offers an illustration of some of the texts likely to be used on the course:

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.

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 P

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

Eichengren, B. Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History

Guajardo, J. (2014) ’Expansionary Austerity: International Evidence?’, Journal of the European Economic Association 12(4), 2014, pp. 949-968.

Hay, C. ‘Narrating Crisis: The Discursive Construction of the “Winter of Discontent”’, Sociology 30(2), 1996, pp. 253-277

Hay, C. The Failure of Anglo-Liberal Capitalism (Palgrave, 2013)

Hay, C and Payne, A. Civic Capitalism (Polity 2015)

Holmes, C. ‘Whatever it takes: Polanyian perspectives on the Eurozone crisis and the Gold Standard’, Economy and Society 43(4), 2014, 582-602.

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.

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.

Mair, P. Ruling the Void: the Hollowing Out of Western Democracy (Verso, 2013)

Matthijs, M. ‘Mediterranean Blues: The Crisis in Southern Europe’, Journal of Democracy 25(1), 2014, pp. 101-115.

Mirowski, P. Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown (Verso, 2014)

Patomäki, H. The Great Eurozone Disaster: From Crisis to Global New Deal (Verso, 2013)

Schäfer, A and Streeck, W. (eds) Politics in the Age of Austerity (Polity 2013)

Schmidt, V.A. and Thatcher, M. (2013) Resilient Liberalism in Europe’s Political Economy (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Sinn, H-W The Euro Trap. On Bursting Bubbles, Budgets, and Belief (Oxford University Press, 2014)

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)

Watson, M. Uneconomic Economics and the Crisis of the Model World (Palgrave, 2014)

Westra, R. et al The Future of Capitalism After the Financial Crisis (Routledge 2015)

Worth, O. Resistance in the Age of Austerity (Zed Books, 2014)

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.
The course uses a mixture of mini-lectures, small-group problem-solving/​discussion exercises, role-plays, and plenary debates.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment
  • 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