Core Subject: Democratic Challenges

Course content

The aim of this course is to provide an in-depth analysis of the main challenges to democratic government in Europe and elsewhere. To what extent has traditional representative democracy in the political form of the nation-state become an inadequate mode of government, and how do pressing crises and challenges such as globalization, rising inequality, climate change and populism encourage us to rethink the very idea of democracy?


The first part of course will examine these questions with a focus on new theories of democracy and political agency. The second part of the course will turn to actual political issues in order to further advance the discussion of the challenges facing democratic government in the 21st century. Among the topics to be discussed are globalization, rising inequality, post-national democracy, populism, the EU, and climate change.


Democratic Challenges is required for students enrolled in the Specialization in Political Theory.


Core subject in the core-subject track in Political Theory. Only accessible to students who are admitted to Political Theory.


NB! All exams (both ordinary and re-exams) will take place at the end of the autumn semester only, as the course is not offered in the spring

Learning outcome

The objective of the course is to enable the students to:



  • Describe the main approaches in contemporary democratic theory.
  • Understand and explain main divisions and developments in contemporary democratic theory.
  • Evaluate the validity of the various theorists’ arguments.



  • Present and analyze key trends, tensions and contradictions in contemporary democratic theory.
  • Combine and synthesize contributions (theoretical or otherwise) to discussions about democracy in the 21st century.
  • Apply the theories to issues such as globalization, populism and climate change.



  • Critical thinking across different theories and styles of argumentation. 
  • Writing and presentation in a concise and clear manner.
  • Ability to develop a coherent argument.

This course will consist of a combination of lectures, student presentations and discussions, and possibly talks by guest lecturers.

The following is a preliminary reading list. Other materials will be added before the beginning of the semester.


Arendt, Hannah (1969) ‘Civil Disobedience’.


Bennett, Jane (2010) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.


Bohman, James (2009) From Demos to Demoi.


Brown, Wendy (2006) Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in an Age of Identity and Empire.


Brown, Wendy (2015), Undoing the Demos. Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution


Butler, Judith (2015), Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly


Connolly, William (2013) The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neo-Liberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism.


Dean, Jodi (2010) The Communist Horizon.


Forst, Rainer (2013) Toleration in Conflict.


Fraser, Nancy (2015), “Legitimation Crisis? On the Political Contradictions of Financialized Capitalism”, Critical Historical Studies (Fall 2015)


Habermas, Jürgen (2012) The Crisis of the European Union.


Mahmood, Saba (2009) ‘Religious Reason and Secular Affect: An Incommensurable Divide?’ Critical Inquiry, Vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 835-861.


March, Andrew (2011) ‘Speaking about Muhammed, Speaking for Muslims’, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 806-821.


Müller, Jan-Werner (2016), What is Populism


Offe, Claus (2015), Europe Entrapped.


Pettit, Philip (1999) Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government.


Robin, Corey (2017), The Reactionary Mind. Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump


Rodrik, Dani (2017), “Populism and the Economics of Globalization”, Research Paper, August 2017. Available at:


Thomassen, Lasse & Marina Prentoulis (2013) 'Political Theory in the Square: Protest, Representation and Subjectivation', Contemporary Political Theory, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 166-184.


Urbinati, Nadia (2014). Democracy Disfigured.

Continuous feedback during the course
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination
Type of assessment details
Free assignment
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
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester

Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Christian F. Rostbøll   (2-71804e7774813c79833c7279)

Alice el-Wakil

Saved on the 15-06-2022

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