• Offered by School of Politics and International Relations
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Course subject Political Science
  • Areas of interest Policy Studies, Political Sciences, Political Economy
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • AsPr Tracy Fenwick
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in First Semester 2024
    See Future Offerings

The main objective of this course is to understand, in both, theory and practice, the central goals and challenges inherent within a federal system of government. Within federal configurations, power and resources can simultaneously shift downwards (towards local government) and upwards towards the center. Why would the center concede power to subnational units or vice versa? In this course, we will explore the logic of power-sharing and the motives (causes) that drive it from two different theoretical perspectives that are grounded in experience: rational choice (American) and historical institutionalism (European). In the final stages of the course we will begin to look at the impact (consequences) of federalism on democracy and democratic representation, economic stability, and redistribution. By doing so, we will be examining one of the most dynamic research areas at the intersection of political science and economics. We will examine both the normative theories of federalism and how it is applied in practice to countries such as Australia, Canada, and the US, and in emerging federations such as Brazil and Argentina. Australian federalism will be a focus of this course, and will provide students with a unique opportunity to design (reform) the Australian Federation.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. define and explain the concept of federalism, where it originated, and what it was intended to achieve;
  2. assess whether a given country and society is federal or federation-like, and attempt to theorise whether or not it matters within its context;
  3. analyse different schools/methods used to investigate federalism and be able to critically asses their value and importance;
  4. demonstrate an understanding of why federalism matters for public policy outcomes in Australia and beyond; and
  5. communicate understanding of comparative Federalism through written analysis and/or verbal presentation.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Comparative Research Essay or Policy Memo (3000 words) (40) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]
  2. Workshop Critical Reviews (20) [LO 1,4,5]
  3. 3 x 10% quizzes (30) [LO 3,4,5]
  4. Workshop Participation (10) [LO 1,2,3,4,5]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


130 hours of total student learning time made up from: a) 36 hours of contact over 12 weeks: 24 hours of lectures, and 12 hours of tutorials; and, b) 94 hours of independent student research, reading and writing.

Inherent Requirements

Not applicable

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have completed POLS1002 and 6 units of 2000 or 3000 level Political Science (POLS) courses, or with permission of the convener.

Prescribed Texts

Ordeshook, Peter, Filippov, Michael and Olga Shetsova. 2004. Designing Federalism: A Theory of Self-Sustainable Federal Institutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Watts, Ronald L. 2008. Comparing Federal Systems. (3rd Edition), Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press.

Preliminary Reading

Bednar, Jenna. 2009. The Robust Federation: Principles of Design. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Fenwick, Tracy Beck. 2015. Avoiding Governors: Federalism, Democracy, and Poverty Alleviation in Brazil and Argentina. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Galligan, Brian. 1995. A Federal Republic: Australia’s Constitutional System of Federalism. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Skogstad, Cameron, Papillion, and Banting (eds.) 2013. The Global Promise of Federalism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Assumed Knowledge

Basic Australian politics


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2024 $4440
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2024 $6000
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
2980 19 Feb 2024 26 Feb 2024 05 Apr 2024 24 May 2024 In Person View

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