Cancelled Between Extinction and Inequality: New Threats and Challenges to Political Engagement

Course content

What are the key issues for the study of political engagement today? This question is motivated by the fact that liberal democracy is in existential crisis. It was created to form robust political institutions and a vibrant civic culture capable of mixing concerns for pluralism and stability in modern society. However, it has proved unable to handle the profound challenges to democratic politics resulting from accelerating globalization, individualization, professionalization, mediatization and digitalization. First, liberal democracy was taken over by globalist neoliberalism, uncoupling actors inside political systems from ‘ordinary people’ in the social lifeworld to be able to ‘adapt’ to the needs of the emerging knowledge and risk society operating in ‘fast time’. Then nativist populism emerged as a response to the neoliberal takeover with its program for combating ‘the global elite conspiracy’ and make the nation and its ‘pure’ people great again. This hegemonic battle between neoliberalism and populism is squeezing all life out of liberal democracy. It is making it unable to deal both with the growing inequalities produced by neoliberalism’s political economy and populism’s discourse about global warming as invented by the global elite to preserve its hegemony.


Political participation today is also drifting away from liberal democracy’s original idea of virtuous citizenship as the road to keeping political institutions strong and responsible as well as to safeguarding a vibrant civil society and public sphere. Just as neoliberalism is making participation more individualistic and global in nature so populism is making it more collectivistic and national. Thus, they are undermining the conventional steering triad of state (‘hierarchy’), market (‘anarchy’) and civil society (‘solidarity’), rejecting that this is any longer ‘the mix that matters’. Key-focus is instead on the tension between networking knowledge elites mixing science and technology to shape and control objects and subjects, and strong, authentic leaders embodying the collective power and identity of ‘we the people’.


A tension is deepening between those who engage globally to combat climate change (for instance Extinction Rebellion) and those who struggle nationally for popular sovereignty (for example Podemos). This course is oriented towards discussing how these two grand narratives for saving the Earth and bringing ‘the People’ back in can – and should be - connected, and how new forms of political engagement can contribute to overcoming the global/national divide in terms of a new multilevel participatory approach to connecting system and lifeworld.  The course takes its starting point in the American dream which originally was about creating and shaping a democratic polis that could connect achievement and equality, technological and economic progress and ethical and social commonality. From here the course is divided into 4 sections:

Section I:  on liberal democracy; section II: on neoliberalism’s takeover; section III: on the populist counter-revolution; and section IV: reinventing the American dream - new approaches to connecting achievement and engagement.     



The American Dream: Between Achievement and Equality (Bang 2018, Dalton 2017, Norris and Inglehart 2019)


Section I On Liberal Democracy:

Connecting the democratic Regime and the civic culture (Almond and Verba 1963, Dahl 1956, Habermas 2002)

Social capital and appropriate institutions (Putnam 1993, Putnam and Goss 2002, March and Olsen 1995)

The public sphere of state and civil society (Goode 2005, Habermas 1997)


Section II: on neoliberalism’s takeover:

Depoliticization and the professionalization of Parties and NGOs (Mair 2013)

Reflexive individuals and consumers in latemodernity (Hutton and Giddens, 1999, Stolle, Hooghe and Micheletti 2005, Sunstein 2017).

A New Public Management for nudging individuals to seek success and make the right choices. (Thaler and Sunstein 2011).


Section III: on the populist counter-revolution:

Repoliticization of politics and policy (Mouffe 2013)

A politics of conflict and emotions (Mouffe 2018)

The struggle for hegemony and collective identity, Mouffe 2018, Della Porta et al 2017 


Section IVreinventing the American dream - new approaches to connecting achievement and engagement

Expert Citizens and Everyday Makers in the Lifeworld (Bang 2003, 2005, 2009, Occupy Wall Street Activists 2011)

Connective action in new political movements (Bang and Halupka 2017, Bennett and Segerberg 2013)

A new politics of truth founded on mutual acceptance and recognition of difference (Bang 2015 Thunberg 2019)   


Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS



Learning outcome


The course is targeted to provide students with a framework for analysing how the change from left/righ to  global/national as the dominant cleavage and conflict in society affects the study and practice of political participation in liberal democracies. New social movements like Extinction and Podemos will serve as exemplars.  Special focus will be placed on the tension between the diverse means and goals of social movement provided by particpatory approaches to liberal democracy, globalist neoliberalism and nativist populism.
Upon completion of the course, the students will be able to:

  • define, describe and steer between the pros and cons of these three perspectives on political participation;
  • know how to combine global and national participatory problematics in the study of new social movements;
  • move beyond the three opponents to a new communicative connectivism for combining online and offline participation in theory as well as in practice.



Students will learn about key participatory approaches to liberal democracy (Almond and Verba, Dahl, Habermas, Putnam, March and Olsen); globalist neoliberalism (Giddens, Beck, Thaler and Sunstein);  nativist populism (Mouffe, Della Porta), and communicative connectivism (Bennett and Segerberg, Bang, Halupka and Jensen). They will become able independently to generate new empirical-analytic perspectives on old debates such as those of hegemony v consensus, individualism v collectivism and interest politics v identity politics.



The student should be able to orally and in writing scrutinize, problematize and critically reflect upon their own and other’s arguments.


Almond, Gabriel and Sidney Verba (1963) The Civic Culture. London: Sage.


Bang, Henrik Paul (2003): ‘A new ruler meeting a new citizen’ in Bang (ed.) Governance as social and political communication. Manchester: Manchester University Press: 241-267.


Bang, Henrik Paul (2005): “Among everyday makers and expert citizens” in Newman (ed.): Bristol: Policy Press: 159-179.


Bang, Henrik P. (2009) ‘‘Yes we can’: identity politics and project politics for a late modern world’. Urban Research & Practice, vol. 2, nr. 2: 117-138.


Bang, Henrik P. (2015) Foucault’s Political Challenge: From Hegemony to Truth. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


Bang, Henrik P. (2018) “The American dream: who else but the young can revive it?” Policy Studies, volume 39, issue 3: 274-291.


Bang, Henrik P. and Max Halupka (2017) “Contentious connective action: a new kind of lifepolitical association for problematizing how expert systems operate”. Information, Communication and Society, volume 22, issue 1: 89-104.


Bang, Henrik P. and David Marsh (2018b) ”Populism: A Major Threat to Democracy?” Policy Studies, volume 39, issue 3: 352-363.


Bang, Henrik P (2018a) “Populism versus neoliberalism: is there a way forward?” Policy Studies, volume 39, issue 3: 251-259.


Bennett, Lance. W. and Alexandra Segerberg (2013) The Logic of Connective Action. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.


Dahl, Robert A (1956) A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.


Dalton, J. Russell (2017) The Participation Gap: Social Status and Political Inequality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Della Porta, Donnatella, Joseba Fernadez, Hara Kouki & Lorenzo Mosca (2017). Movement Parties against Austerity. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Goode, Lukes (2005) Jürgen Habermas. London: Pluto Press.


Habermas Jurgen (1997) Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge: Polity.


Habermas Jurgen (2002) The Inclusion of the Other. Cambridge: Polity.


Habermas, Jürgen (2006) ‘Political Communication in Media Society: Does Democracy Still Enjoy an Epistemic Dimension? The Impact of Normative Theory on Empirical Research.’ Communication Theory 1–426.


Hutton, Will and Anthony Giddens (eds.)  (1999) On the Edge. London: Vintage.


Mair, Peter (2013) Ruling the Void. London: Verso.


Mouffe, Chantal (2013) Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. London: Verso.


Mouffe, Chantal (2018) For a Left Populism. London: Verso.


Norris Pippa and Ronald Inglehart (2019) Cultural Backlash. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Occupy Wall Street Activists (2011) Revolution Handbook: The Unauthorized Collector’s Edition. New York: Fix Bay Inc. Publishing.


Putnam, Robert D. (1993): Making Democracy Work. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.


Putnam, Robert D. & Kristin A. Gross (2002) ‘Introduction’ in Putnam, Robert D.  Democracies in Flux. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 3-21.


Stolle, Dietlind, March Hooghe & Michele Micheletti (2005) “Politics in the Supermarket: Political Consumerism as a Form of Political Participation.” International Political Science Review. 26(3): 245-268


Sunstein, Cass R. (2017) Republic: Divided Democracy in an Age of Social Media. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Thaler, Richard H., and Cas R. Sunstein. (2008) NUDGE: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven: Yale University Press.


Thunberg, Greta (2019) No One is too Small to Make a Difference. London: Penguin.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral exam with a synopsis
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28