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Politics from Below: Protests and Social Movements


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.


This course aims to provide the students a theoretical framework and empirical background on how people act collectively to promote or to resist social and environmental change. By joining efforts together, individuals can work to transform social values or norms, establish collective identities, change laws, and prevent businesses from running as usual. Social movements have become one of the major avenues of political expression in contemporary societies. Studying social movements gives a bottom-up perspective to the interaction between global institutions, state governments and individuals on the one hand, and draws on the relationship between the society and the larger natural environment on the other.

Throughout this course, students will acquire an understanding of social movements by examining why people join social movements, how social movements develop and how effective they are in achieving particular goals in national and global politics. The students will be familiarized with the theories about social movements, the interaction of social movements with political actors, and how our understanding of social movements has changed over time. Moreover, we will acknowledge the vast impact of social media and the digital age on association and communication within social movements and between them and different actors.

Drawing on the broader set of sustainable development goals of the United Nations, the course also examines new social movements, revolving around political freedoms, civil and minority rights and equality. Some prominent examples are Black Lives Matter, Occupy, the Arab Spring, pro-democracy protests in Eastern Europe, and MeToo#. A special focus in this course is given to environmental social movements, like People’s Climate March and Fridays for Future. We will explore why and how people engage in collective actions in reaction to environmental concerns such as climate change, the extraction of natural resources, and rights-based frameworks for the environment.

Finally, counter-movements against globalizing social forces will also be taken into account, such as anti-environmentalism, climate change skepticism, mobilization of the radical right (for instance, anti-immigration protests of PEGIDA). The course will end with a critical reflection on different factors in play why the protests emerge, how they travel across national borders, and how they (may) bring about social and environmental change.

Course objectives

  • Students will be able to define social movements and explain theories for their emergence and success.

  • Students will be able to apply the theories to some prominent examples of contemporary social movements and assess whether the theories are applicable and supported.

  • Students will be able to differentiate between old and new social movements, identify the goals of the movements and intersectional nature of the movements by drawing on the concepts discussed in the classroom.

  • Student will critically assess the methodologies used to study social movements and when particular methods are and are not appropriate.

  • Students will be able to explain the role of social movements in a modern society, their interaction with other political actors and evaluate the implications of their impact.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week.

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Midterm Exam 50%
Review Paper 50%

End Grade

The grades for both parts of the assessment – Midterm Exam and Review Paper – should be higher than 5.5 to pass the course. If the end grade is insufficient (lower than a 6.0), there is a possibility of retaking the exam or/and a reworked version of the Review Paper (depending on which part failed). The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the paper and feedback. In case of resubmission of the Review Paper, the final grade for the paper will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2021 – 2022.

Exam review and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

To be announced.


There are limited places available in this minor equivalent, so please send an email to our administration as soon as possible if you would like to enrol for this package. In your email, please mention the name of the package Ecology, Migration and Tolerance: Limits to cooperation?, as there are other packages available as well. We will only offer this to students as a part of their Elective Credits; there is no option of doing these courses as extracurricular courses. Students cannot register in uSis for this course, or be allowed into this course in any other way.



All other information.