The Politics of Representation and Legitimacy: Who has Voice in National and International Institutions?

Course content

Questions of legitimate rule, political representation and accountability are paramount in Political Science. Are the interests of citizens actually represented in national politics, the EU, or International Organisations like the UN? In what ways do such institutions hold legitimate power, and how are they held accountable, when breaching important rules or norms?

Given the multiple sources and forms of power in modern governance such questions have become increasingly complicated to answer. We need both a solid understanding of what these concepts mean in a specific context, as well as methods to assess them in practical terms.

This course therefore blends normative political theory with carefully designed  empirical analyses to speak to questions such as:

  • Are governments responsive to citizen preferences?
  • In what way(s) is the EU in a legitimacy crisis?
  • Whom do non-governmental organisations (NGOs) represent?
  • What is normatively wrong with the United Nation (UN) Security Council? And which coping strategies can it use to address this?


The course is split into three parts:

Part 1) Conceptual Basics

In the first part of the course, students will read and discuss seminal theoretical literature on the concepts of legitimacy and representation and related concepts such as accountability, authority and politicisation.

Part 2) Applications to Modern Politics

The second part then applies these concepts in empirical analyses of various political actors, namely national governments, international organisations (IOs), the European Union, (international) assemblies, civil society organizations, interest groups and the judiciary.

Part 3) Project Outcomes and Conclusions

The third part focusses on advancing the student projects on the chosen questions related to representation and legitimacy.

The aim of the course is to equip students with the skills to design their own analyses of important normative questions in politics today by using:

1) consistent and compelling theoretical arguments and

2) strong and carefully selected empirical evidence. 

The training, which the course provides on these aspects, will be useful for designing other future projects, such as a Master thesis.

More specifically, the course structure will be as follows:

Part 1: Conceptual Basics

1. Introduction: Normative Puzzles and Course Objectives

2. Legitimacy

3. Representation

4. Authority, Accountability and Politicisation

Part 2: Applications to Important Actors in Modern Governance

5. National Governments

6. The European Union (EU) and its Institutions

7. International Organisations I: Framework and Examples

8. International Organisations II: Coping Strategies

9. Assemblies

10. Civil Society

11. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Interest Groups

12. The Judiciary

Part 3: Project Outcomes and Conclusions

13. Research Design Lab

14. Conclusions and project pitches


Bachelor: 7,5 ECTS

Kandidat: 7,5 ECTS

Learning outcome


  • Students know the legitimacy challenges involved in politics at national and transnational level, and with regard to specific institutions such as national governments, international organisations (IOs), the European Union, civil society actors and (international) courts.
  • Students know different conceptions of key normative concepts connected to representation and legitimacy, can locate them in theoretical traditions and discuss their main assumptions
  • Students know how qualitative and quantitative methods can be applied to evaluate normative questions empirically 



  • Students can make consistent normative arguments orally and in writing, using examples/cases/empirics to substantiate their reasoning
  • Students can apply different conceptualizations and operationalisations of key concepts, including legitimacy, representation, accountability
  • Students can develop an analytical strategy/research design including suitable methods to study (normatively) important questions  in political science



  • Students can understand and discuss academic literature, decoding its structure, main claims and research design
  • Students can identify the difference between normative arguments and empirical studies, as well as the (hidden) normative assumptions in empirical work they read

The sessions in this seminar will include teacher-led and interactive components, with exercises aimed at understanding and critically discussing the design and theoretical assumptions in research on legitimacy problems and democratic representation.

Overall, the course is structured to fulfil the intended learning outcomes by enabling the design of student-led projects with normative and empirical components. Students can work individually or form groups of up to three students to work on a selected normatively relevant question throughout the course.
This work will be submitted as a portfolio in two parts :
Part 1) will be an assignment asking students to discuss the relevance of their chosen question and critically assess the key concepts related to it.
Part 2) will ask them to develop an empirical strategy to study the selected question.
The course literature provides the theoretical and methodological toolbox for this work. Moreover, the seminar sessions will include peer feedback and project pitches in order to give course participants the possibility to fine-tune their project and improve their writing and oral communication skills.

The great majority of the course literature consists of state-of-the-art journal articles. A special focus in the course lies on discussing and learning from newer research, especially regarding the empirical applications.

See examples from the reading list below. A full reading list is available on request (just email:

Sabl, A. (2015). The Two Cultures of Democratic Theory: Responsiveness, Democratic Quality, and the Empirical-Normative Divide. Perspectives on politics, 13(2), 345-365.

Hooghe, L., Lenz, T., & Marks, G. (2018) Contested world order: The delegitimation of international governance. The Review of International Organizations, 14: 731–743.

Beetham, D. (2013). Revisiting Legitimacy, Twenty Years On. In: Justice Tankebe and Alison Liebling (Eds). Legitimacy and Criminal Justice: An International Exploration.  Oxford Scholarship Online

Rehfeld, A. (2011) 'The concepts of representation', American Political Science Review 105(3):631-41.

Zürn, M., Binder, M., and Ecker-Ehrhardt, M. (2012). ‘International Authority and Its Politicization’. International Theory, 4(1), 69–106.

Vinæs Larsen, M. (2019). ‘Is the Relationship Between Political Responsibility and Electoral Accountability Causal, Adaptive and Policy-Specific?’, Political Behavior 41 (4), 1071-1098.

Arnesen, S., and Peters, Y. (2018). The Legitimacy of Representation: How Descriptive, Formal, and Responsiveness Representation Affect the Acceptability of Political Decisions. Comparative Political Studies, 51(7), 868–899. 

Barberá, P., Casas, A., Nagler, J., Egan, P., Bonneau, R., Jost, J., and Tucker, J. (2019). Who Leads? Who Follows? Measuring Issue Attention and Agenda Setting by Legislators and the Mass Public Using Social Media Data. American Political Science Review, 113(4), 883-901.

Hagemann, S., Hobolt, S. B., and Wratil, C. (2017). Government Responsiveness in the European Union: Evidence From Council Voting. Comparative Political Studies, 50(6), 850–876.

Tallberg, J., and Zürn, (2019). ‘The legitimacy and legitimation of international organizations: introduction and framework’. 14:581–606.

Ecker-Ehrhardt, M. (2018). ‘Self-legitimation in the Face of Politicization: Why International Organizations Centralized Public Communication’. Review of International Organizations, 13(4), 519–546.

Rocabert, J., Schimmelfennig, F., Crasnic, L, and Winzen, T. (2019) ‘The rise of international parliamentary institutions: Purpose and legitimation’. The Review of International Organizations, 14: 607–631.

Dryzek, J. S., Bächtiger, A., and Milewicz, K. (2011). ‘Toward a Deliberative Global Citizens’ Assembly’. Global Public Policy, 2(1), 33-42.

Gregoratti, C., and Uhlin, A. (2018). Civil Society Protest and the (De)Legitimation of Global Governance Institutions. In J. Tallberg, K. Bäckstrand, & J. A. Scholte (Eds.), Legitimacy in Global Governance: Sources, Processes, and Consequences (pp. 134–152). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Junk, W. M. (2019) 'Representation beyond people: lobbying access of umbrella associations to legislatures and the media’. Governance, 32(2): 313– 330.

Pollack, M. A. (2018). The Legitimacy of the European Court of Justice. In A. Follesdal, G. Ulfstein, H. G. Cohen, & N. Grossman (Eds.), Legitimacy and International Courts (pp. 143-173). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dellmuth, L. M. (2018). Individual Sources of Legitimacy Beliefs: Theory and Data. In J. Tallberg, K. Bäckstrand, & J. A. Scholte (Eds.), Legitimacy in Global Governance: Sources, Processes, and Consequences (pp. 37–55). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Criteria for exam assesment

  • 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