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Politics from Below: Protests and Social Movements


Admission requirements

This course is only open for students that are enrolled in the Minor Ecology, Migration and Tolerance: Limits to Cooperation.


This course provides students with theoretical and methodological knowledge of studying collective action, which aims to promote or resist political, social, and environmental change. It offers a bottom-up approach to global challenges and how these challenges are experienced and addressed by common people. Social movements have become one of the major avenues of political expression in contemporary societies. Thus, studying social movements is crucial for deepening our understanding of the interaction between global institutions, state governments and individuals on the one hand, and the relationship between the society and the larger natural environment on the other.

Throughout this course, students will acquire knowledge of the field of social movements studies 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 particularly examines new social movements, revolving around political freedoms, civil and minority rights, identity, and equality. Some prominent examples of movements we discuss are Black Lives Matter, Occupy, the Arab Spring and pro-democracy protests. A special emphasis in this course is given to environmental social movements, like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future. Finally, counter-movements against globalizing social forces will also be taken into account, such as anti-environmentalism, 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 protests emerge, how they travel across national borders, and how they (may) bring about political, social and environmental change.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  • define social movements and explain theories for their emergence and success;

  • apply the theories to some prominent examples of contemporary social movements and assess whether the theories are applicable and supported;

  • differentiate between old and new social movements, identify the goals of the movements and explain the intersectional nature of the movements;

  • conduct research on social movements using interviews as a data collection method

  • learn the basics of how to use digital interview data analysis tools

  • analyse publically available sources on social movements

  • present research findings, focusing on the role of social movements in modern society, their interaction with other political actors, and the role of social media, and evaluate the implications of their impact.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Eight lectures and four seminars.

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Exam 60%
Research Paper 30%
Presentation 10%

End Grade

The grades for both parts of the assessment – Exam and Research 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 research paper (depending on which part failed). The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the research paper and feedback. In case of resubmission of the research paper, the final grade for the research paper will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2024 – 2025.

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. Readings will be accessible via the Library Catalogue and/or Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.



All other information.