ROOM CHANGE: Please note that due to AV issues, this seminar will now take place in Seminar Room D.

Due to a set room capacity, to attend this event please email If the event becomes oversubscribed we will operate a waiting list.


Institutions help to build and extend civic capacity: the common knowledge, behaviors, networks, and norms that define a society. Some institutions promote a civic capacity that supports other kinds of institutions - they create positive spillovers. We explore the interplay between three types of institutions: democracies, hierarchies, and markets, and in so doing, expose the downside of generating positive spillovers: it makes the externality-generating institution less likely to survive. We demonstrate that under plausible assumptions characterising each, democracy is imperiled as its contribution to civic capacity grows. The model provides a fresh perspective on the cause of democratic decline, where democracy is threatened not by forces acting within the institution, but because of its contribution to other institutions that organise society.

Speaker Biographies:

Jenna Bednar is professor of political science at the University of Michigan and a member of the external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute, a research think tank focusing on the science of complex systems. She also directs the University of Michigan’s academic semester program in Washington DC. Her research focuses on how individual efforts collectively build social goods. Current work spans three areas: federal system design and operation; how culture affects the way people respond to laws and norms; and transboundary water system governance. Her book The Robust Federation: Principles of Design was awarded the Martha Derthick Best Book Award in recognition of its enduring contribution to the study of federalism.

Scott Page is the John Seely Brown Distinguished University Professor of Complexity, Social Science, and Management at the University of Michigan. He is also the Williamson family Professor of Business Administration, professor of management and organizations, Stephen M. Ross School of Business; professor of political science, professor of complex systems, and professor of economics, LSA. Scott is also an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute. In addition to his departmental appointments, Scott holds a faculty associate position at the Institute for Social Research. In addition to his academic pursuits, Scott is a highly sought after speaker and frequently gives talks on complex systems to non academic audiences on diversity and on complexity and has consulted on projects ranging from the possibility of panic at Y2K and the demand for movies, to the economic impact of the World Cup.


Research Themes

Research Programmes