Prof Keith Dowding

BA(Hons) (Keele); DPhil (Oxon)
Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Political Philosophy
College Arts & Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Political Theory And Political Philosophy 160609
  • Political Science 1606
  • Comparative Government And Politics 160603
  • Public Policy 160510
  • Public Administration 160509

Research interests

I am interested in supervising students in the areas of

  • Political Theory and Political Philosophy - analytic political theory, synthetic political theory, especially freedom, equality, power, democratic theory, theories of justice, rational choice theory, philosophy of social science.
  • Public administration - especially politician-agency relations, public sector reform, Australian Politics - especially cabinet, career paths of politicians.
  • Comparative Politics - all areas especially electoral systems, comparative legislatures, comparative executives, comparative party systems; collective action.
  • British politics; all areas.
  • Australian Politics - ministers; policy agendas.
  • Political Sociology - collective action/mass mobilization; agency-structure; choice.


I joined arrived at the ANU as Professor of Political Science in July 2007 become Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Political Philosophy in 2017.  Previously I was Professor of Political Sceince at the  London School of Economics. Prior to the LSE I had held teaching appointments at Brunel University in West London and at the University of Oxford.

I received a First Class degree in Philosophy and Politics from Keele University in 1982, and a DPhil from Oxford University (where I studied at Nuffield College) in 1987. I was a Hallsworth Fellow at Manchester University in 1993-94, and Visiting Fellow at RSSS in 2000-01; Visiting Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS) October-December 2007, Viisting PPE Fellow at the Free University of Amsterdam May-June 2019. I am Fellow of the Accademy Social Sciences Australia and Fellow of the Human Development and Capabilities Associaition.

I helped set up and am on the Executive Committe of a network of scholars 'Selection and De-selection of Political Elites' (SEDEPE) who are interested in the career paths of political elites. I was vice-Chair at the Citizens' Income Trust in the UK an organization educating people about a Citizen's or Basic Income for all to replace all other kinds of social welfare assistance.

I edited the Journal of Theoretical Politics from 1996 to 2014 and was Associate editor of Research and Politics 2014-18.

Researcher's projects

All of my research is informed by the rational choice approach which I have found myself defending against misinformed criticism for many years. The funny thing is, I always thought I was a critic of classical rational choice.

Having a very short attention span I work on many different projects at the same time. My main research projects are:


My book The Philosophy and Methods of Political Science, London: Palgrave, came out in 2016. There were symposiums on the book in Political Studies Review and Australian Journal of Political Science in 2017.  More recently I have published articles with Charles Miller and have chapters in several Methodology Handbooks

I am now extending this work looking at methods in moral and political philosophy, some of this joint work William Bosworth at the LSE with articles in European Journal of Political Theory and Review of Politics.  I have run panells at ECPR General Conference 2016-2019. 


The Careers of Political Elites

This project comes under the rubric of SEDEPE. My work so far has largely been concerned with ministers in the British government with a forthcoming jointly authored book Accounting for Ministers Cambridge University Press 2012 and largely concerned with accountability issues concerned with their selection, promotion or demotion and removal. These career concerns provide the bedrock for ministerial accountability in all its forms. Through SEDEPE we are enlarging the scope of analysis to countries around the world with a network of scholars collecting a dedicated dataset for comparative analysis, see Keith Dowdng and Patrick Dumont (eds) The Selection of Ministers Around the World, London: Routledge, 2015, paperback published in 2016

We have data  on Australian ministers using Australian Research Council (ARC) grant for three years The Accountability of Australian Ministers 2009-2011, see Keith Dowding and Chris Lewis (eds) Ministerial Careers and Accountability in the Australian Commonwealth Government  Canberra: ANU Press, 2012. I am writing a book with Matthew Kerby and Jennifer Curtin on Ministerial Careers in Westminster Countries, and working with Elena Semenova on ministerial selection and de-selection in Central and Eastern Europe.


Pathways to Power: Australian Political Careers

This ARC funded project (2021-23) maps the career structure of political elites and examines the de-sparation thesis suggesting that the convergence of elite careers produces worse policy outcomes.  Held with ANU colleagues Marija Taflaga, Matthew Kerby and Darren Halpin

Australians' trust in the government is at an all-time low and citizens are concerned about the representativeness of those who lead the country. This project tackles this national concern by analysing the career paths of political elites in Australia and how they impact on how we are governed. By tracing the characteristics and relationships of those ‘at the top’, this project will help the Australian community to understand more clearly why some
representatives make it to the top, and others do not. The Government has taken steps to make it clearer to the public how political careers operate by establishing a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC). This project furthers this important national priority by providing the evidence base needed for honest debate about the representativeness of those we elect. It can show us how to make career success in politics a clearer and fairer process that the community can trust and to improve the overall quality of government.


Policy Agendas in Australia

The ARC Discovery Project held with Aaron Martin of Melbourne University has resulted in eleven publications so far. Our book Policy Agendas in Australia (Palgrave) was published in early 2017.


Power and Freedom

I have long had an interest in the concept of power and freedom and their relationship.  I have published two books on power (Rational Choice and Political Power, Elgar 1991, and Power, Minnesota University Press, 1996 as well as many articles on both power and freedom. I edited The Encyclopedia of Power Sage in 2011. My book Power, Luck and Freedom: Collected Essays, Manchester: Manchester University Press was published in early 2017.  My book Rational Choice and Political Power with a new introduction and postscript is being re-issued by Bristol University Press in 2019.  A symposium on this book will appear in the Journal of Political Power in 2021. I am working on a project with Martin van Hees (University of Amsterdam) entitled 'Assessing Freedom'.


Public Policy

I have long been engaged with examining urban service-delivery (mostly with Peter John) our book  Exits, Voices and Social Investment: Citizens' Responses to Public Services Cambridge: Cambridge University Press was published in 2012.

I am combining with work on public policy with political theory notably freedom and responsibility.  My book Its the Government, Stupid argues that government tries to pin responsibility onto citizens for policy failures that are the government's own responsibility via the cult of individual responsibility.  I am working with a colleague Alex Oprea examining 'nudge' and other forms of regulation in relationship to freedom and responsibility.


Other Research 

My book co-authored with Brad Tayler Economic Approaches to Government is published by Palgrave Pivot in 2019


Current student projects


Edmund Handby 'Evaluating Models of Conceptual Change' (commenced Februrary 2018)


Panel Member



Past student projects

Lars Moen 'The Republican Dilemma: Liberating Republcanism, Sacrificing Pluralism', graduated 2020

Kelvin Lee 'Trust and Environmental Valuation: The Impact of Culture as a System' graduated 2019

David Monk ‘The Dominant Discourse of Central Bank Independence’, ANU graduated 2017

Adam Packer ‘The Difference Constitutions Make: A Global Inquiry into the Impacts of Institutional Design' ANU graduated 2014

William Bosworth ‘Concepts and Consistency in Political Argument’ ANU graduated 2014

Brad Taylor ‘Exit and Voice: Papers from a Revisionist Public Choice Perspective’ ANU graduated 2014

Andrew Klassen ‘Electoral Management Autonomy and Fair Elections: The Effects of Institutional Design on Public Perceptions’ ANU graduated 2014

Mhairi Cowden ‘Should Children Have Rights?’ ANU, graduated 2012

Michael Dalvean ‘The Selection of Ministers in the Australian Federal Parliament’, ANU graduated 2012

Matthew Laing ‘New Perspectives on Political Time: Populists, Prime Ministers and Perpetual Preemptionf’ (Chair Paul ‘t Hart), ANU graduated 2012

Joanne Lau ‘Culture and Obeying the Law’ (Chair Bob Goodin), ANU graduated 2012

Aaron Martin ‘Why Don’t Young People Vote? A Study of Advanced Democracies’ (Chair Ian McAllister) ANU, graduated 2010

Andre Alves ‘The Employment Effects of Welfare Regimes’ [with Valentino Larcinese] LSE, graduated 2009

Zsuzsunna Chappell ‘Deliberative Democracy and the Discursive Dilemma’ [with Christian List], LSE, graduated 2009

Rekha Diwakar ‘Determinants of the Size of Party in the Indian States’, LSE, graduated 2006

Daniel Rubenson ‘Is It Really about Bowling: How Institutions and Community Affect Participation in American Cities, LSE, graduated 2006

Stewart Astill ‘Networks that Form Policy: The Case of Pension Reform’, LSE, graduated 2006

Rotem Bressler-Gonen ‘Shirking and Shifting Policies: Uncooperative Political Appointees in Local Governments – the Case of Israel’, LSE, graduated 2005

Oliver Curry ‘New Evolutionary Ethics: An Adaptationist Account of Morality’, LSE, graduated 2005

Kennedy Stewart ‘“Persistent Losing” and Electoral Fairness in Four World Cities’, LSE, graduated 2003

Tom Quinn ‘Organizational Reform in the British Labour Party Since 1983’, LSE, graduated 2002

Oliver James ‘The “Next Steps” Agency Model in the UK Central Government 1988-98, with Special Reference to the Benefits Agency’ [with Patrick Dunleavy], LSE, graduated 2001

Yoav Schechter ‘Interests, Strategies and Institutions: Lobbying in the Pharmaceutical Industry in the European Union’, LSE, graduated 1999

Maijia Setala ‘Theories of Referendums and the Analysis of Agenda-Setting’ [with Brian Barry], LSE, graduated 1997

Andrew Hindmoor ‘Socialism and Entrepreneurship: A Rational Choice Approach to an Issue of Compatibility’, LSE, graduated 1996

Shlomo Mizrahi ‘A Theory of Constitutional Change: Game-theoretical Analysis of Socio-Political Processes in Poland, 1976-1981’ [with Brian Barry], LSE, graduated 1995


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  01 December 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers