South Africa’s institutional challenges

What do we mean by “the state”? How do we understand its institutions? What makes states work or fail? What and who makes up the state?

One of the most pressing challenges of post-apartheid South Africa is the limited so-called ‘capacity’ of the South African government and the organisations that make up the state. Yet traditional approaches have had limited capacity to grasp the phenomena they seek to understand (corruption, for example, or neopatrimonialism) or to propose ways to ‘build capacity’ that are consistent with the broader democratic ambitions of the South African constitution.

Organisational and Institutional Studies (OIS) is a new programme in the School of Social Sciences to be coordinated by the Public Affairs Research Institute from 2018. The programme offers ways to understand organisations and institutions of government and a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the state.

Honours level will be available from 2018 and honours and masters levels from 2019.

What is Organisational and Institutional Studies?

Internationally there have been important developments in the study of the state, focusing on the organisations and institutions that comprise it. In addition to traditional scholarship in public administration, since the 1980s economists have explored the behaviour of organisations in relation to the formal and informal structure of incentives operating within them. Anthropologists too have begun exploring institutions as social relations, bringing the methods associated with ethnography to the study of the state. Historical sociology explores the phenomenon of ‘state formation’ by periodising the emergence of certain kinds of administrations and seeking their historical conditions.

In South Africa, these various approaches are unevenly developed. This programme of study brings together these different fields to provide a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the state, its organisations and institutions. The programme privileges ethnographic methods to study state institutions, to understand their functioning from the inside, and to relate them to broader dynamics of power.

Programme structure

The Organisational and Institutional Studies honours programme is made up of one theory and methods core course – Basic Concepts in Organisational and Institutional Studies – and electives in Sociology, Politics, History, Urban Studies, and Economics AND a 10 000-word research essay. All students must complete a minimum of FOUR 4000-level courses (23 credit points per course ), OR SIX 4000-level courses (when the combination contains courses with lower credit points ), and a research report (30 credit points). Courses from which to choose are the following:

The core course:
Basic Concepts in Organisational and Institutional Studies
Three electives from the following:
Economic Sociology: Institutions, Capitalism and Markets
The Making of Urban South Africa
Capitalism and the South African Countryside
The International Political Economy of Development
Global Institutions and Economic Restructuring
The State in Africa: Democratisation and Crisis
Politics of Public Policy
Economic Change and Comparative Development
Trade and Finance in Economic Development
Urban Politics and Governance
Research Essay

Admission Requirements

A bachelor’s degree or equivalent with a 68% or higher course mark aggregate in a third year major.

Who Should Apply?

  • Students who are considering careers in the public service
  • Consultants to public institutions
  • Students interested in theorising the State and its institutions

Possible careers for OIS Graduates

  • Academic Researcher
  • Lecturer
  • Public Policy Researcher
  • Policy Analyst
  • Project Coordinator
  • Project Manager
  • Public Service Consulting

About the Public Affairs Research Institute

Established in 2010, PARI is a University of the Witwatersrand and University of Cape Town-affiliated institute, based in Johannesburg. The Institute has pioneered the field of organisational and institutional studies in South Africa. Employing ethnographic and historical methodologies it works inside government and civil society organisations to understand where power lies in these organisations and how it is exercised, in order to develop recommendations for improved governance, accountability and organisational performance. In recognition of the originality and importance of this work the University of the Witwatersrand has established a new field of study in Institutional Studies that will be offered jointly in the Faculty of Law, Commerce and Management and the Faculty of Humanities from 2018.

The Institute contributes to academic debate on the nature of the state and state-society relations through participating in and hosting local and international conferences, and publishing in peer-reviewed journals and books. PARI also academically and financially supports postgraduate students at the University of the Witwatersrand.

A limited number of scholarships will be offered. Only successful applicants will be eligible.