Advanced Introduction to Theories in the Social Sciences I: Democracy and Society

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Hans-Jörg Trenz


Compulsory for the 1st year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Compulsory for the 1st year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


This course provides the theoretical toolkit and critical understanding for a sociological analysis of democratic politics with particular attention to processes of legitimation, public opinion, old and new media and civil society. In particular, it explores the challenges faced by national democracies in dealing with digitalization and globalization of society. As such, it introduces some main topics in political sociology, bridging theoretical as well as empirical approaches for the study of contemporary transformations democracy within and beyond institutions.



Session N. 1 Introduction: What is democracy?

(2/11/2021, h. 14-17)

In the first session we will discuss the linkage between democratic theory and (modern) society. We will need to develop some common understanding what we mean when we talk of ‘democracy’ and what are possible theoretical approaches to discuss democracy as an idea and as a social practice that links citizens, collective actors and political institutions.

Required readings:

  1.      Habermas, J. (1994) 'Three Normative Models of Democracy', Constellations, 1(1): 1-10.
  2.      della Porta, D. (2013). Can Democracy be Saved?, Polity, chapter 1
  3.      Schmitter, P. C. and Karl Terry, L. (1991) ‘What Democracy Is...and Is Not’. , Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 75–88.

Additional readings:

Dahl, R. A. (1998) On Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press).

Held, D. (1996) Models of Democracy, 2nd Edition, (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers).

Morlino, L. (2004) ‘What Is a “Good” Democracy?’ Democratization, Vol. 11, No. 5, pp. 10–32


Session N. 2 Alternative Conceptions of Democracy

(09/112021, h. 10-13)

  1.      Della Porta, Donatella, Can democracy be saved?, Oxford, Polity Press, 2013, Chaps. 3 and 4
  2.      Cini, L. and Felicetti, A. (2018) ‘Participatory Deliberative Democracy: Toward a New Standard for Assessing Democracy? Some Insights into the Italian Case’. Contemporary Italian Politics, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 151–169.

Additional readings:

  1.        Baker, G. (2002) Civil Society and Democratic Theory : Alternative Voices (London: Routledge).
  2.        Dahlgren, P. (2013) The Political Web. Media, Participation and Allternative Democracy (Basingstoke: Palgave Macmillan).
  3.        Della Porta, Donatella, Social Movements in times of austerity, Oxford, Polity Press, 2015, chap. 4.
  4.        Dryzek, J. (2005) ‘Deliberative Democracy in Divided Societies. Alternatives to Agonism and Analgesia’. Political Theory, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 218–241.


Session N. 3 What is post-democracy?

(16/11/2021, h. 10-13)

In the third session, we will discuss symptoms of democratic crisis and the diagnosis of post-democracy. We will enter a critical discussion on the meaning of the concept of post-democracy and how it can be applied to contemporary societies and the public sphere.

Required readings:

  1.      Crouch, C. (2020) Post-Democracy After the Crises, Oxford: Wiley, chapter 1
  2.      Schmidt-Gleim, M. (2021) 'Democracy, Post-democracy and What Came After', in C. Wiesner (ed.), Rethinking Politicisation in Politics, Sociology and International Relations, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 89-106.

Additional readings:

  1.        Rancière, J. (2014) Hatred of Democracy (London: Verso).

Session N. 4 Contemporary Challenges to Democracy 1: The transnationalisation of government and the public sphere

(23/11/2021, h. 10-13)

The fourth session will discuss the particular challenge of the transnationalisation of government to the democracy and the changing context of internal relations that constrain local democratic government but also provide new opportunities for global democract

Required readings:

1. Fraser, N. (2007). "Transnationalizing the Public Sphere: On the Legitimacy and Efficacy of Public Opinion in a Post-Westphalian World." Theory, Culture & Society 24(4): 7-30.

2. Salvatore, A., Schmidtke, O. and Trenz, HJ. (2013). Introduction: Rethinking the Public Sphere through Transnationalizing Processes. Europe and Beyond. In A. Salvatore, O. Schmidtke and H. J. Trenz (eds.). Rethinking the Public Sphere through Transnationalizing Processes. Europe and Beyond. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan: 1-24.

Additional readings:

Habermas, J. (2001) The Postnational Constellation. Political Essays (Cambridge: Polity)

Session N. 5 Contemporary Challenges to Democracy 2: Post-Truth, Fake News and Democracy

(30/11/2021, h. 10-13)

This session will discuss the relationship between truth and democracy and selected evidence of whether contemporary societies are entering an era of post-truth

Required readings:

  1.      Broersma, M. (2013) ‘A Refractured Paradigm: Journalism, Hoaxes and the Challenge of Trust’. In Peters, C. and Broersma, M. (eds) Rethinking Journalism. Trust and Participation in a Transformed News Landscape (London: Routledge), pp. 28–44
  2.      Farkas, J. and Schou, J. (2020) Post-truth, Fake News and Democracy: Mapping the Politics of Falsehood, London: Routledge, chapter 2 and 3)
  3.      Waisbord, S. (2018) ‘Truth Is What Happens to News’. Journalism Studies, Vol. 19, No. 13, pp. 1866–1878.

Session N. 6 Contemporary challenges to Democracy 3: The new and old media

(06/12/2021, h. 14-17)

This session will discuss how digitalisation and the internet challenges democracy, while providing at the same time new opportunities of democratisation.

  1.      Coleman, S. (2017) Can The Internet Strengthen Democracy?, Oxford: Wiley. (chapetr 1 and 2)
  2.      Bennett, W. L. and B. Pfetsch (2018). "Rethinking Political Communication in a Time of Disrupted Public Spheres." Journal of Communication 68(2): 243-253.

Additional readings:

  1.        Papacharissi, Z. (2010) A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  2.        McChesney, R. W. (2013) Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy (New York: New Press)

Session N. 7 Beyond post-democracy

(14/12/2021, h. 10-12)

This session will wrap up the debate on democracy and its future.

Required readings:

  1.      Crouch, C. (2020) Post-Democracy After the Crises, Oxford: Wiley, chapter 1
  2.      von Beyme, K. (2017) From Post-Democracy to Neo-Democracy, Berlin: Springer International Publishing (chapter 1 and 5)

Obiettivi formativi

Introduce to general sociological theories on democracy

Understand contemporay challenges to democracy