MA Humanitarianism and Conflict Response / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Democracy: Theory & Practice

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI70872
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Sample topics:

(1) The value of democracy

(2) Democracy: market or forum? 

(3) Democracy and liberalism: natural bedfellows?  

(4) Democratic systems: proportional versus winner-takes-all

(5) Why vote?

(6) Problems of minorities and gender in democratic societies

(7) The youth vote, civic education and the problem of apathy

(8) Do public participation systems actually bring the public’s voice into politics?

(9) Is lobbying undemocratic? Does it privilege the rich and powerful?

(10) Is democracy in crisis?


Why do we value democracy? What exactly do we value in democracy? What is the relationship between democracy and rights? Which form of democratic decision-making best embodies democratic values? Which institutional settings are more conducive to democratic participation? What is/should be the relationship between different levels of democratic governance (local, national, supranational)? Are our institutions democratic? How can women and minorities be better represented in them? The course addresses these and further questions by looking both at insights of democratic theory and at the empirical study of democratic institutions.

Learning outcomes

 On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

·      Understand the key normative ideas that underlie democratic theory, and demonstrate this understanding by applying these insights to solving contemporary practical problems.  Some examples of these problems are:  1. overcoming the democratic deficit, 2. ensuring adequate representation for women and minorities in liberal democratic pluralist societies 3. finding ways of modernising elections 4. educating the country’s youth about democracy. 



Teaching and learning methods

10 x 2 hour seminars

Knowledge and understanding

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to demonstrate:

·         An in-depth knowledge and understanding of the values and goals underlying democratic theory.

·         An ability to identify and describe the complex problems that arise in the implementation of democracy at the local, national and international levels.

·         Show an in-depth critical knowledge of the attempts to solve various contemporary problems associated with democratic theory and its application.

·    The ability to critically reflect on the contemporary debates concerning the democratic deficit, the representation of minorities in a liberal democratic society, teaching civic skills in schools especially those concerned with inculcating the values of democracy, the effect of different electoral systems on the realisation of democratic values and ideals. 

·         To articulate and defend their own position vis à vis the value and importance of democratic values and their practical implementation at the local, national and international arenas. 


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%

One essay of 3,000 words (75%), one short paper 1000 words (25%).

Recommended reading

Preliminary Reading:

  • Beetham, D. (2005) Democracy: A Beginner’s Guide (Oxford: One World Publications)
  • Blais, Andre (2000) To Vote or Not to Vote: The Merits and Limits of Rational Choice Theory (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press).
  • Christiano, Thomas (ed.) (2003) Philosophy and Democracy (Oxford: OUP)
  • Dahl, Robert. (2000) On Democracy (New Haven: Yale UP)
  • Eliasoph, N. (1998) Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  • Fasulo, L. (2004) An Insider's Guide to the United Nations (New York; UNDP)
  • Goodin, R. & Pettit, P. (1997) Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology (Blackwell).
  • Gutmann, Amy and Dennis Thompson. Democracy and Disagreement (Cambridge: Harvard UP)
  • Milner, Henry (2002) Civic Literacy: How Informed Citizens Make Democracy Work (Hanover: University Press of New England).
  • Parkinson, John. (2006) Deliberating in the Real World: Problems of Legitimacy in Deliberative Democracy (Oxford: OUP)
  • Pattie, C., Seyd, P.  & Whiteley, P.  (2003) "Citizenship and Civic Engagement: Attitudes and Behaviour in Britain" Political Studies 51, 443-68.
  • Putnam, Robert (2000) Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster).
  • Russell, Andrew; Fieldhouse, Ed; Kalra, Virinder & Purdam, Kingsley. (2003) Electoral Commission: Research Report "Voter Engagement & Young People"
  • Shapiro, Ian (2003) The State of Democratic Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press)
  • Skocpol, Theda & Fiorina, Morris (eds.) (1999) Civic Engagement in American Democracy (Washington/New York: Brookings Institute/Russell Sage Foundation,).
  • United Nations Development Programme Website: Online:
  • Wattenberg, Martin (2002) Where Have All The Voters Gone? (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Fernando Rosenblatt Unit coordinator
Vittorio Gerosa Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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