Core Subject: Democratic Challenges

Course content

This course provides students with an opportunity to gain conceptual, theoretical and normative tools to understand and gain critical insights of current challenges to the ideal of democracy and to its translation into practice. We will read and discuss texts from contemporary democratic theory on questions such as:

-       What is democracy? Do social movements demanding “real democracy now” and governments claiming to implement “illiberal democracy” talk about the same thing? How should democracy be understood?

-       Is democracy a valuable ideal? When, why, and compared to what? And to what extent do pressing crises and challenges, such as rising inequality, anti-democratic movements, and climate change, encourage us to rethink the very idea of democracy?

-       Is democracy feasible? What kinds of political arrangements should be considered democratic? Is the widespread model of representative government the most adequate way to implement democracy, or should it be rethought? And if so, what supplements of alternatives should be favoured?

Democratic Challenges is a core subject required for and only accessible to 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 specific political problems



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

Course sessions: short lectures, discussions, student presentations, group exercises.

Preparation: guided self- or group-study to
- read carefully all the required readings in advance of each session;
- critically reflect on the required readings;
- prepare questions and critical points for class discussion;
- prepare and complete session-dependent exercises.

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


Anderson, Elizabeth. 2009. “Democracy: Instrumental vs. Non-Instrumental Value.” In Christiano, Thomas and John Christman (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy. London: Wiley, 213-227.

Chambers, Simone. 2009. “Rhetoric and the Public Sphere: Has Deliberative Democracy Abandoned Mass Democracy?” Political Theory 37 (3): 323-350.

Dahl, Robert A. 2015 [1998]. “Where and How Did Democracy Develop? A Brief History” In On Democracy (2nd edition). New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 7-25.

Donaldson, Sue and Will Kymlicka. 2016. “Rethinking Membership and Participation in an Inclusive Democracy.” In Arneil, Barbara and Nancy J. Hirschmann (eds.), Disability and Political Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 168-197.

Guerrero, Alexandre. 2014. “Against Elections: The Lottocratic Alternative.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 42 (2): 135-178.

Held, David. 2006 [1987]. Models of Democracy (3rd edition). Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Lafont, Cristina. 2019. Democracy without Shortcuts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-13, 33.

Landemore, Hélène. 2020. Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Machin, Amanda. 2022. “Climates of democracy: Skeptical, rational, and radical imaginaries.” WIREs climate change 13 (4): 1-13.

Mansbridge, Jane. 1983. Beyond Adversary Democracy. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Müller, Jan Werner. 2016. What is Populism? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Parkinson, John and Jane Mansbridge (eds.). 2012. Deliberative Systems: Deliberative Democracy at the Large Scale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Przeworski, Adam. 2018. Why Bother with Elections? Cambridge: Polity Press.

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
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment


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

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
  • Alice el-Wakil   (14-636e6b656730676e2f79636d6b6e426b6875306d7730666d)
Saved on the 30-05-2023

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Courseinformation of students