MA Political Science - Philosophy and Political Theory

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Comparative Democratisation in Eastern Europe and Latin America

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI70952
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


This highly interactive course is designed to provide graduate students with a comprehensive understanding of transitions to democracy, democratisation processes, and democratic quality and fragility in Latin America and Eastern Europe.While the course will cover the entire Latin America and Eastern Europe, it will place extended focus on critical cases such as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. And, given that Prof. Onuch is an internationally leading expert on Ukraine the course will include discussions of Ukrainian democratic resilience and Russia's authoritarian entrenchment in the context of the ongoing war.

In addition to highly engaging seminars, the course will enhance your learning with weekly news briefs, where students will analyse current events and their implications for democratic processes in the studied regions, including developments related to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The course will explore key questions such as: 
1. What promotes democratisation and what causes backsliding?
2. Is it ever possible for a country to be "safe" from the risk of democratic reversal?
3. What is more important in shaping the trajectory and quality of democracy: elites, institutions, or people power?
4. How enduring are institutional and historical legacies, really? Can these legacies be overcome, if so how?
5. What is the role of economic development and socio-economic inequality in the sustenance and stability of democracy or autocracy?
6. Why do some ordinary citizens rally around democracy and why do some support authoritarian leaders?
7. How do the rise of social media and foreign disinformation campaigns affect the quality, trajectory, and resilience of democracy?
8. What defines a high-quality democracy? And how can we monitor and measure democratic quality and its endurance?
9. Can democracy be promoted or exported? Or is it really an insiders’ game?
10. How does autocratic entrenchment shape Russia’s war against Ukraine and how does democratic resilience shape Ukraine’s response to it?

Students will have the opportunity to showcase their understanding through participation, presentations, essay writing and the course will have a practical aspect, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in policy writing and analysis. To foster creativity and practical application, the course includes a unique assignment – the creative constitution policy assignment where students will tackle some of the biggest problems a democracy can face and offer their own policy focus advice.
Using policy briefs, election data, public opinion surveys, and engaging in a creative constitution assignment, students will develop practical skills in policy analysis while exploring constitutional dynamics. Using these diverse approaches, students will engage in highly interactive sessions, challenging regional stereotypes and highlighting intra-regional differences.

By the end of the course, students will have a strong command of democratization theory, comparative politics literature, and methodological approaches.

Get ready to explore the dynamics of democracy in two vibrant regions in this highly interactive course that not only offers traditional essay writing but also practical policy analysis, a creative constitution assignment, insights from special guests, and tracking of significant elections


This unit aims to provide students with an in-depth analytical understanding of the theory and practice of democracy and democratization processes in Eastern Europe and Latin America in comparative perspective. The unit will contrast and compare the processes of democratization and assess the outcomes of these processes (‘real world’ democracy). The unit aims to present students with the different theoretical understandings of democratization and demonstrate the tension between ‘theory’ and empirical realities in the two regions under study.

The course will provide a critical perspective on the follow debates:  Is there elite and economistic bias? Is this a ’necessary evil’? Or are ‘Ordinary’ Citizens and their participation equally important?  What is the durability of institutional and historical legacies? Or can legacies be overcome?   Can the ’west’ promote of import democracy?

First, the course aims to provide an intermediate to advanced overview of political theory and its development over the last fifty years. We will trace these developments from linear modernization theories of democratization, to the institutionalism turn of the 1990s, to the shift to agency and the role of civil and civic engagement, to the most recent holistic and critical focus on the ‘quality’ and ‘qualities’ of democracy. Second the course aims to follow the historic processes in Latin America and Eastern Europe and the institutions and actors involved in these processes from the late 1980s to today. Thus, allowing students to contrast and compare democratization in the two regions. The course aims to critically dissect the concepts of transition, consolidation, back-sliding and ‘quality of democracy.’ Thus, the course not only peruses the main literature and debates of the ‘transition’ and ‘democratization’ paradigms but also presents students with the tools to question the linear aspects of transition and democratization theory and studies. The course will break down ‘region’ based stereo-types and will highlight the issue of intra-regional divergence and inter-regional convergence. Students will asked to assess why only some post-communist (in EE) and post-authoritarian (in LA) transitions were democratic and why some of these ‘young’ democracies are very liberal or participatory and other still flag behind their neighbours.

While we will be looking at the two regions as a whole, the course will focus in on the following country case studies: Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Russia, Estonia and Georgia, and the former Yugoslavia (in EE); and Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, and Cuba. There will be a strong emphasis on the cases of Ukraine and Argentina in comparative perspective.

The course will equip students with; a) an understanding of the empirical background and the development of the post-communist/post-authoritarian transition to democracy in EE and LA; b) a grasp of the specialized literature on democratization and democracy theory; and c) a knowledge of the broader comparative politics literature.

Teaching and learning methods

This course will be taught in 10 weekly two hour seminars.

The aim is for the seminars to be a student led discussion facilitated by presentations and group exercises, to a great extent. Students are expected to have completed all the required reading and to come prepared with two key terms they found to be integral to the week’s readings (or the most confusing) and one question to pose to their peers. These will be discussed in small groups of 3-4 in the first 10 minutes of class. This will be followed by a brief class discussion of the key concepts. The second half of the seminar will consist of short presentations by students followed by class discussion and debate.

The Blackboard site for the course will contain relevant links to further sources and websites. The students will be encouraged to use a variety off on-line resources (including social media and blogs) to investigate the protests and even engage with the grass roots organizers of the protest events, where possible.

Students will also be encouraged to employ digital archives of primary documents and protest paraphernalia, where available on-line.

Lecture and seminar material will also be posted on the site as well as some study skills and assessment tips.

Knowledge and understanding

A sophisticated understanding of the literature on comparative democratization in Eastern Europe and Latin America; a broad knowledge of recent empirical cases of democratization, consolidation and back-sliding in comparative perspective; and a broad knowledge on the developing debate about the intersection of institutions and agency in political processes.

Intellectual skills

A capacity to engage analytically with the major debates in the literature on comparative democratization in Eastern Europe and Latin America. An ability to employ comparative method and evidence based analysis in academic writing.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Improved writing, argumentation, debating and presentation skills. The capacity to succinctly and analytically summarize and mobilize complex ideas.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%
Report 40%

Essay -   2000 words -   50%

Constitution Assignment -   Group Constitution 600 words/ Group Presentation/ Individual Analytical Report on constitution 800 words- 40%

Seminar Participation- 10%

Recommended reading

  • Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2006. Persistence of Power, Elites and Institutions.
  • Almond, Gabriel A. (Gabriel Abraham). 1989. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. [New ed.]. Newbury Park, Ca.¿; London: Sage.
  • Auyero, Javier. 2007. Routine Politics and Violence in Argentina: The Gray Zone of State Power. Cambridge University Press.
  • Avritzer, Leonardo. 2002. Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America. Princeton University Press.
  • Beissinger, Mark R. 2013. “The Semblance of Democratic Revolution: Coalitions in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.” American Political Science Review FirstView: 1–19.
  • Bermeo, Nancy Gina. 2003. Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times: The Citizenry and the Breakdown of Democracy. Princeton University Press.
  • Boix, Carles, and Susan Carol Stokes. 2003. “Endogenous Democratization.” World politics 55(4): 517–49.
  • Bunce, Valerie J., and Sharon L. Wolchik. 2011. Defeating Authoritarian Leaders in Postcommunist Countries. Cambridge University Press.
  • Collier, David, and Steven Levitsky. 1997. “Democracy with Adjectives: Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research.” World politics 49(03): 430–51.
  • Diamond, Larry. 1992. “Economic Development and Democracy Reconsidered.” American behavioral scientist 35(4-5): 450–99.
  • Horowitz, Donald L. 1993. “Democracy in Divided Societies.” Journal of Democracy 4(4): 18–38.
  • Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave., Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century.
  • Inglehart, Ronald. 1997. 19 Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies. Cambridge Univ Press.
  • Levitsky, Steven, and Lucan Way. 2002. “The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism.” Journal of democracy 13(2): 51–65.
  • Linz, Juan. 1990. “The Perils of Presidentialism.” Journal of Democracy 1(1): 51–69.
  • Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1981. Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Manin, Bernard, Adam Przeworski, and Susan Stokes. 1999. “Elections and Representation.” Democracy, accountability, and representation: 29–54.
  • Onuch, Olga. 2014. “‘Who Were the Protesters?.’” Journal of Democracy.
  • Przeworski, Adam, and Fernando Limongi. 1997. “Modernization: Theories and Facts.” World politics 49(02): 155–83.
  • Tsebelis, George. 2002. Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work. Princeton University Press.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Olga Onuch Unit coordinator

Return to course details