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Elective: Democracy and distrust


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies who have succesfully completed the second year elective course.

The number of participants is limited to 25.


Today, democracy seems to be unchallenged. Ever since 1945, and especially after 1989, the democratic ideal appears to be uncontested. Communities around the world embrace this principle. Even dictatorial regimes claim to be democratic.

At the same time, democracy appears to be in a state of crisis. According to research based on surveys, the popular trust in the representative democracy, politics and politicians is rapidly diminishing. Party membership is dropping and govrnments are eyed with suspicion. All over the world, disaffected citizens demand alternative forms of democracy, vote on populist movements or turn away from politics altogether.

In this elective, you will gain an understanding of this paradoxical feature of our current political system. Moreover, you will discuss solutions for the future. In order to do so, we will focus on the past. When did the levels of trust start to decline? Where does this development come from? Is political distrust really a new phenomenon? Specifically, we will study the contrasting complaints aimed at democracy after 1945.

Although the seminar focuses on developments in the Western World, you are invited to focus your presentation and paper on other areas. Comparisons or the study of political transfer will be encouraged. Your research on different areas and periods will trigger interesting international discussions. These dicussions will be even more interesting thanks to your varying disciplinary backgrounds. History will be the most prominent angle of this elective, but the approaches of political science and philosophy will also be taken into account.

Course objectives

The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral presentation skills:
1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
d. aimed at a specific audience;
3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:
1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:
1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
4. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.

Written presentation skills:
1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
a. in the form of a clear and well-structured written presentation;
b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

This course will be conducted as a seminar. That means that you will actively participate in the discussions and that you will experience the joys of research firsthand.

During the first part of the course, we will discuss general literature.

During the second part of the course, each week is devoted to a subtheme (like populism or political scandals). You will write an individual review essay on a book about one of these subthemes. In class, you will give a group presentation, in which you discuss your reviewed book against the background of the state of the research on the subtheme. Together with your group mates, you will analyse the historiography and discuss possible venues for further research.

At the same time, you will conduct research on a topic of your own choice. This topic has to be related to the subtheme you have chosen earlier. In class, you will give an individual presentation on your research question and methodology. Your fellow students and the instructor will provide feedback. In the end, you will write a research paper. The presentation and the paper should be the result of an in-depth analysis, based on both secondary literature and primary source material.

Attending the seminars is compulsory. If you are not able to attend, please inform the tutor of the course. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the final exam or essay.

Course Load

Attendance: 24 hrs.
Assignments and literature: 84
Research (including the presentations, the review essay and the paper): 172
Total: 280 hrs.

Assessment method

Participation (10%)
Review essay (circa 1000 words) (10%)
Group presentation (10%)
Individual presentation (10%)
Final paper (circa 4500 words excluding tables and bibliography) (60%)

Note: The maximum possible grade to be obtained for re-submission of the final essay is a 6.0.


Blackboard will be used. For tutorial groups: please enroll in blackboard after your enrolment in uSis
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research (third edition, Chicago/London 2008).

Other texts will be made available on the seminar shelve at the Library Learning Centre (Schouwburgstraat 2, The Hague).

Amongst others, these will include (parts from): – Ankersmit, F.R. and Henk te Velde, Trust: cement of democracy? (Louvain 2004). – Dalton, R., Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices: The Erosion of Political Support in Advanced Industrial Democracies (Oxford 2004). – Rosanvallon, P., Counter-democracy: politics in an age of distrust (Cambridge 2008). –


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.



J. Gijsenbergh, email