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Interest Groups and Democracy


This seminar is earmarked for IP, DR, NP


Interest groups play an important role in contemporary democracies. They are a crucial link between citizens and those who make political decisions. Through collective action, citizens make their voice heard. Yet, we know that not every interest organizes itself: the system of interest groups is biased towards specific interests. Moreover, even the groups that have the ears of politicians and civil servants, are not representative of the entire population of interest groups. This raises important questions about the extent to which interest groups contribute to democratic governance, or potentially undermine it.
This problem is even stronger at a transnational level: interest groups also lobby European bureaucrats and international negotiators. In these arenas, insulated from traditional electoral politics, the voices of citizens are muted: here as well, interest groups could play an important role in ensuring that outcomes match citizens’ preferences or not.
This course studies interest group politics from an empirical perspective. Some of the main themes are the structure of interest group systems; and how specific interest groups operate, their goals and their strategies. Special attention will be paid to lobbying in the European and international arena.

Learning goals

At the end of this course students can:
1. use concepts and theories from the interest group literature to explain the behaviour of interest groups;
2. critically reflect upon the role of interest groups in contemporary democracies;
3. independently collect and evaluate scientific evidence about interest groups;
4. communicate their understanding of interest group to an academic audience.

Educational format

The course consists out of seminars (twice a week). The meetings focus on a group discussion on the basis of that session’s readings. Students are expected to write an essay on at least half the sessions. During the sessions, students are expected to participate in an active and constructive fashion, even if they did not write an essay for that specific meeting.

Assessment Method

Students’ grades are based on the six highest scoring essays and individual participation during the sessions.


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