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Study information

Power and Democracy

Module titlePower and Democracy
Module codePOC2120
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Andrew Schaap (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Should democratic politics be limited to periodic competitive elections of parliamentary representatives? Or should it be expanded to include meaningful political participation by all in other areas of social life, such as the workplace? Is democracy just a matter of voting in order to determine the majority view based on pre-existing individual preferences? Or should it also include practices of deliberation in which citizens develop more informed opinions by encountering relevant information and moral considerations? Is the ignorance of the average voter the main challenge for democracy today or the ignorance of political elites? By introducing you to the field of democratic theory, this module will equip you to reflect on the conceptual and normative issues contained in such pressing questions of democratic life today.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to encourage you to reflect on contemporary debates about democratic politics in light of two broad traditions of political thought: liberal and radical democracy. On the one hand, liberal democrats tend to view democracy simply as decision-making procedure: they want to limit democratic politics to appropriate political arenas and to direct it through appropriate channels. On the other hand, radical democrats tend to view democracy as a way of life: they want to expand democratic politics throughout social life and enhance the meaningfulness of participation available to citizens. You will reflect on how these traditions of democratic thought inform and influence how we think about a range of contested practices of political life today, such as: Should citizens should have to pass a competence test in order to vote? Are populists the ‘true’ democrats? Can the use of coercive tactics by political demonstrators be democratic? When might unelected and self-appointed representatives be more representative than elected politicians?

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. distinguish between liberal and radical theories of democracy;
  • 2. evaluate political phenomena in terms of normative criteria of democratic theory.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. assess the insightfulness of different interpretations of political texts and phenomena;
  • 4. assimilate and analyse a range of sources in contemporary political theory.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. refine normative and conceptual arguments;
  • 6. reflect on your own social position and political agency.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some most of the following topics:

  • Elitism and Epistocracy
  • Participation
  • Audience Democracy
  • Deliberation
  • Activism
  • Social Difference
  • Partisanship
  • Populism
  • Representation
  • Civility

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity16.511 x 1.5 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity1010 x 1 hour seminars
Guided Independent study 48Reading and preparing for seminars
Guided Independent study 65.5Completing assessment tasks

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short written answer500 words1-6Written comments

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio1003,000 words 1-6Written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PortfolioPortfolio (3,000 words)1-6 August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

This reading list is indicative - i.e. it provides an idea of texts that may be useful to you on this module, but it is not considered to be a confirmed or compulsory reading list for this module.

Ackerman, Bruce & James Fishkin (2002) ‘Deliberation Day’, The Journal of Political Philosophy 10 (2): 129-152.

Bardon, A, M Bonotti, S Zech & W Ridge (2023) ‘Disaggregating Civility: Politeness, Public-Mindedness and their Connection,’ British Journal of Political Science 53(1): 308-325.Brennan, Jason (2011) ‘The Right to a Competent Electorate’, The Philosophical Quarterly 61 (245): 700-724.

Canovan, Margaret (1999) ‘Trust the People! Populism and the two Faces of Democracy’, Political Studies 47: 2-16.

Green, Jeffrey (2010) The Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship. Oxford University Press, ch.1 & 2 (excerpts).

Saward, Michael (2009) ‘Authorisation and Authenticity: Representation and the Unelected’, Journal of Political Philosophy 17 (1): 1-22.

White, Jonathan & Lea Ypi (forthcoming) ‘Political Parties’ in Jeffrey King and Richard Bellamy (eds) The Cambridge Handbook of Constitutional Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Young¸ Iris Marion (2001) ‘Activist Challenges to Deliberative Democracy’, Political Theory 29 (5): 670-690.

Key words search

Democratic theory; contemporary political theory

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date