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Debating Political Institutions



Political institutions are well-known for their stickiness; they are difficult to change. This does not stop political scientists from debating their merits. Imagine that you were given the opportunity to design political institutions from scratch. What institutions would you select? Why? This course centers around debating the normative arguments as well as the empirical evidence, regarding the advantages and disadvantages of ten of such democratic institutional choices (the exact debate questions will be refined in the course syllabus):
1 At what age should citizens be allowed to vote? 2 Should voting be mandatory? 3 Should parliament be elected through a PR or a majoritarian electoral system? 4 Should there be parliamentary quota for women? 5 Should representatives act as trustees or delegates? 6 Should populist parties be banned? 7 Should there be binding referendums? 8 Should digital microtargeting be banned? 9 Should the UN Security Council be reformed? 10 Is the world safer with or without nuclear weapons?

Course objectives

  1. Introduce students to a selection of central practical debates in politics and political science.
  2. Invite students to weight the advantages and disadvantages of a selection of political institutional choices, asking them to gauge the quality of normative arguments as well as empirical evidence.
  3. Allow students to develop their discussion and argumentation skills.

Method of instruction

Fish-bowl discussion seminars

Study material

A selection of journal articles and book chapters, available from the (digital) library of the University (listed in the syllabus which will be posted on Brightspace prior to the start of the course).

Assessment method

Fish-bowl discussion participation in pairs of two students (50%)
Individual assignments (50%)
Because this course is open to political science minor programme students as well as study abroad and exchange students, seminars are in English. Written work can be in English or Dutch, however.


See general information on minor


See 'MyTimetable