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Governance, Politics, and Society

Understanding the world requires familiarity with political, economic and social processes within and across states.

Democratization and democratic backsliding, the rise of populist and nationalist movements, shifting labor and migration patterns, and evolving international legal frameworks shape the world in fundamental ways. These phenomena impact our daily lives at personal, communal, national and global levels. Governance and law, the interactions of states and markets, and people advocating for rights and change are essential components of contemporary international affairs.

The Governance, Politics, and Society focus area gives students the analytical methods and empirical knowledge to understand political and economic processes at all levels. Subjects of focus range from the drivers of protest in the Middle East and labor market policies in Europe to electoral mobilization in Africa and indigenous politics in Latin America. The Johns Hopkins SAIS faculty include leading scholars of political regimes, protests and social movements, and international law and political economy, as well as renowned regional experts and experienced practitioners from the public and private sectors.


Study issues of governance, including US and non-US institutions, as well as comparative studies, international political economy, human rights, social justice, non-governmental organizations, gender, and the media.

International and Comparative Political Economy of Developing Countries

The main aim of the course is the study of the main international and domestic factors behind the economic and political development and under-development of the countries in the world that are not identified or categorized as ‘advanced’ or ‘mature’ capitalist economies.

While the focus of the course is on countries that are not considered rich or developed (most countries in the regions of Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East), we will refer to and use material throughout the course that also covers the rich countries and emerging market ones inasmuch as: 1) they were once underdeveloped or have developed recently, and this experience sheds light on those that have not managed to develop or ‘catch up’; and 2) their own growth and development has been in many cases a cause why others have remained undeveloped (i.e. colonialism, imperialism, dependency).

Corporate Sustainability, Business & Human Rights

This course examines the complexities of transnational and cross-political business practices and strengthen students’ understanding of the fast-developing field of business and human rights, corporate risk and sustainability.

The class will examine seminal cases which lead to the development of voluntary global standards and will explore the new regulatory framework being created to protect stakeholders and hold corporations accountable for negative impacts created by them through their goods and services. We will also look at contemporary human rights challenges against corporations and corporate executives based upon their alleged complicity in human rights violations such as companies doing business in fragile, corrupt or war-torn states. We will focus on the crucial role of the financial sector (investors), advocacy groups, and consumers in rewarding (and penalizing) businesses that do not take human rights and sustainability into account. The class will cover a few sectors that pose specific human rights challenges in the business environment, namely: the apparel industry, agriculture, extractives, and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Democracy in Crisis

Around the world, from Italy to Brazil, and from Hungary to the United States, populist candidates are fundamentally changing the political landscape.

In this course, we explore the nature of populism; investigate whether populism poses an existential threat to liberal democracy; explore the causes of the populist rise; investigate the ways in which populism is a response to demographic change; and discuss what strategies might allow non-populist political actors to push back.

International Human Rights Law

This seminar attempts to understand the ever increasing, but constantly contested, role of international law (as well as other modes of regulation and other forms of normativity) in the promotion and protection of human and peoples' rights the world over, a world that was once referred to as "our global neighbourhood" by the Commission on Global Governance.

This class will grapple with the concepts, histories and policies that are relevant to the international legal protection of human and peoples' rights. Can the "international" (which claims universality) accommodate the "local" (which is particular)? Indeed, why (and to what extent) is the "international" an important element in the protection of human and peoples' rights? How (and to what extent) is "law" relevant to the international protection of human rights - why do we not just resort to politics? A broad-based set of literature will be examined including African, Asian, Islamic, European, and Inter-American perspectives. It will examine the various global-level and regional-level international normative texts (e.g. treaties), processes, and institutions that have been established to advance the cause of the international protection of human and peoples' rights and analyze the lessons for both international human rights theory and practice


Study with world-class experts who are renowned for their scholarship, influence, and networks.

Matthias Matthijs

Dean Acheson Associate Professor of International Political Economy

Mark Gilbert

C. Grove Haines Professor, Professor of History and International Studies

Yascha Mounk

Professor of Practice of International Affairs

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