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Democracy, Political Parties and the Challenges of Representation



The course focusses on the emergence, functions, activities and future prospects of political parties, mainly in Western (European) democracies. Political parties are one of the central actors of modern democracies and are essential to running elections, recruiting candidates for public office and governing the state. They are a main actor of representation and play a crucial role in interest aggregation and processing of societal demands. However, the legitimacy and functioning of political parties are also increasingly challenged by their increasing unpopularity with citizens, and the rise of populism.

Course objectives

At the end of this course, students are expected to:
1. Be familiar with both the classic and modern academic literature on the role of political parties in democratic systems, and have knowledge of the accompanying concepts and discussions;
2. Be able to provide an informed and analytical contribution to discussions about the (changing) relationship between political parties, political representation, and (representative) democracy, in both oral and written form.

Mode of instruction

Seminar, consisting of:

  • Interactive lectures

  • close readings of articles and chapters

  • Student-led in-class discussions

Course Load

The total course load of this course is 280 hours (10 ECTS).
This consists of:

  • Seminar attendance and participation (28 hours)

  • Reading and analyzing course literature (120 hours)

  • Preparing and writing individual weekly papers (120 hours)

  • Reading and analyzing other students’ weekly papers (12 hours)

Assessment method

Students’ final grade consist of

  • Six individual 800-word written papers (highest five grades count)

  • Participation
    All weighted equally (100 / 6 = 16.6 percent each)


Blackboard is used in this course. Students hand in their papers online via turn-it-in, and blackboard will be used to communicate course information to students.

Reading list

A selection of chapters and journal articles available via the (digital) Leiden University library.


See Preliminary Info




Please study the syllabus and study the readings for the first session listed in the syllabus.