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Democracy, Political Parties and the Challenges of Representation



Political parties are one of the central actors of modern representative democracies. They represent views of citizens and link them with democratic institutions. They play a crucial role in interest aggregation and articulation of societal demands. They are essential actors in competitive elections. They also organize working of parliaments and governments. And, finally, parties recruit candidates for public offices and governing institutions. In many respects, therefore, parties seem indispensable for democracy. However, the legitimacy and functioning of political parties are also increasingly challenged by parties’ increasing unpopularity with citizens, the rise of populism and political polarization, and some democratic innovations including radical reforms of democratic institutions. This course concentrates on the emergence, functions, organization, and future prospects of political parties in modern (mainly European) representative democracies.

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 seminar sessions

  • 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 1000-word written papers (highest five grades count)

  • All weighted equally (100 / 5 = 20 percent each)


Brightspace is used in this course. Students hand in their papers online via turn-it-in, and Brightspace 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 'Practical Information'


See 'MyTimetable'


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