Equality Policy in Comparative Perspective

Course Description: 

The main aim of this course is to familiarize students with how the abstract legal principle of equality is turned into policy and practice in Europe and beyond. Starting from what equality means as a basic legal principle and right in modern democratic systems, the course will move on to critically analyze the policy visions, policy approaches and policy tools used to put equality into practice. The literature to which the course refers will be interdisciplinary in nature with some texts of political philosophy, and legal theory, but mainly political science and policy theory writings.


The course will look at all grounds of inequality but especially at race and ethnicity, gender and disability, and devote special attention to the intersection between different inequality axes. The course will focus primarily on policy practice in Europe and North America. Students will be encouraged to bring documents, issues and cases from the policy environments with which they are most familiar.


The structure of the course will be fourfold, with each section being tackled over several classes.


  1. In a basic conceptual overview we will discuss the theoretical foundations of concepts such as equality, equality of opportunity, equality of results and procedural equality.


  1. Readings will explore the equal treatment, the equal opportunity and positive action, and finally the mainstreaming approaches, and also the relations between these approaches. Specific attention will be paid to broadening of the concept of equality from the narrow formal equality approach characteristic for the post WWII years to an increasingly accepted notion of substantive, transformative equality. Our main purpose here will be to shed light on some of the theoretical discussions behind these approaches, but also to look at how they translate in practical policy measures and tools and what are the policy dilemmas that they generate.


  1. Readings and discussions will look at some of the specificities of the four core grounds of inequality discussed in the course: race and ethnicity; gender, disability and sexual orientation and present some contested and specific policy issues in relation to each. We will also specifically address the problem of intersectionality between inequality grounds and the specific policy issues brought up by it.


  1. Topics in this section will look at the main policy-making levels on which equality policy is conceptualized and implemented, and the actors instrumental in this process: international and regional intergovernmental ones and non-governmental actors in interaction with states, both national and transnational. Our purpose here is to discuss specific equality related policy processes including the importance of transnational diffusion of norms, the role of intergovernmental, transnational and national actors in this process, but also the role of national enforcement, regulatory and implementation agencies specific to dealing with equality issues. 
Learning Outcomes: 

The course will sensitize students interested in larger and specific issues of governance, politics, and public policy to challenges of social diversity, cleavages and distinctions pertinent to most developed and new democracies and societies in transformations. Due to the nature of the topic, the course will invite students to develop their skills of critical thinking by understanding major theoretical, political and policy debates that shape considerations on the principles of social equality and justice. The teaching method will ensure that students have to regularly synthesize different pieces of knowledge (discussion of the core readings), to critically evaluate the differences and overlaps of arguments (presentations), to do targeted small inquiries for relevant policy cases (term paper), and to develop their academic writing skills (written support to the presentation and term paper).