Democratic theories and practices

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Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th 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"


Overview of the course: This course offers an in-depth investigation of the way in which democracy is theorized and practiced. We will engage with some classic works as well as contemporary debates in the field. Representative, deliberative, participatory, and agonistic theories will receive special attention. We will also discuss how theoretical and empirical research interact in the study of democracy, especially regarding recent developments. Furthermore, the course will highlight how insight in the field of democratic theory can be related to developments in other areas such as political philosophy, history, political and social sciences.

Course format: The course is articulated into seven seminars as per timetable below and it will be run as a seminar. Sessions will involve a discussion and a lecture. For each meeting, students are encouraged to be pro-active in debating ideas based on the readings and in exploring possible directions of inquiry. After a short introduction at the beginning of the seminar, we will engage in group discussions to delve deeper into the important issues under examination. Two classed will involve an academic seminar with a presentation by a guest. Of course, students are expected to do the readings. Participation in the seminars is compulsory.

Requirements: Master (50%) and PhD students will be evaluated through their attendance and active participation in class. Master students must produce a final paper of 3,000 words (references included) on one of the topics covered during the course (50%). Final papers will be marked on a 30-point scale. The paper can be written in English or Italian and must be delivered by July 2, 2022.PhD students are not required to write a paper as the instructor will only determine whether they have passed (or failed) the course. PhD students willing to write their term paper on a topic of the course, must consult the instructor in advance and also agree on a topic. Term papers should be between 5,000 and 6,000 words (references included) and are due before September 30, 2022. More detailed information on the requirements of the course will be discussed on the first day of class.



Session 1. Introduction

(4/11/2021 14-17)

Democracy is interpreted in different ways. Sometimes that depends on the varying intellectual trajectories from which the idea is approached. Reflecting on these understandings, their commonalities and differences, offers a good basis to start relating to the concept.

Required readings

Dahl, Robert A. On Democracy. Yale university press, 1998. Ch. 1-2

Keane, John. The life and death of democracy. Simon and Schuster, 2009. Introduction

Rancière, Jacques. Hatred of democracy. Verso Trade, 2014. Ch. 1


Additional (optional)

One of the three books mentioned above.

Gagnon, Jean-Paul, and Mark Chou. "Why democratic theory?" Democratic Theory 1.1 (2014): 1-8.


Session 2. Defending Democracy

 (8/11/2021 14-17)

 Democracy has its own strengths and weaknesses. The latter have proven to be a useful basis for seminal contributions that inform much of the current understudying of democracy today, particularly in the mainstream. Different problems, analytical tools, styles inform these analyses.


 Required readings

Dahl, Robert A. On Democracy. Yale university press, 1989.Ch.3-4

Riker, William H. Liberalism Against Populism. Prospect Heights. 1982. Ch.1

Achen, Christopher H., and Larry M. Bartels. Democracy for realists: Why elections do not produce responsive government. Vol. 4. Princeton University Press, 2017. Ch.1


Additional reading (optional)

One of the three books mentioned above.

Wolkenstein, Fabio, and Christopher Wratil. "Multidimensional Representation." American Journal of Political Science (2020).


 Session 3. Pushing Democracy

(11/11/2021 14-17)

Critical approaches have been uniquely valuable to challenge received notions of democracy and advance debates. They differ widely from each other but have also generated inspiring contaminations.


Required readings

Mouffe, Chantal. On the political. Routledge. 2005. Ch. 2

Eckersley, Robyn. "Ecological democracy and the rise and decline of liberal democracy: Looking back, looking forward." Environmental Politics 29.2 (2020): 214-234.

Phillips, Anne. The politics of presence. Clarendon Press, 1995. Ch. 1


Additional reading (optional)

One of the two books above or Eckersley, R. (2004). The green state: rethinking democracy and sovereignty. MIT Press.

Asenbaum, Hans. "Anonimity and Democracy: Absence as Presence in the Public Sphere." European Journal of Social Theory (2020)

Machin, Amanda. "Democracy and agonism in the Anthropocene: The Challenges of knowledge, time and boundary." Environmental Values 28.3 (2019): 347-365.


 Session 4. Participatory Democracy


(15/11/2021 14-17)

The idea of participation has long been an important basis for democratic theory. This approach has been interpreted in very different ways and has widely inspired current democratic practice and thinking.


Required readings

Pateman, Carole. Participation and democratic theory. Cambridge University Press, 1970. Ch. 1

Polletta, Francesca. "Social movements in an age of participation." Mobilization: An International Quarterly 21.4 (2016): 485-497.

Ryan, M. (2021). Why citizen participation succeeds or fails: a comparative analysis of participatory budgeting. Policy Press. Ch. 2-3


Additional reading (optional)

The above book or Barber, Benjamin. Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. Univ of California Press, 2003. Ch. 6

Young, Iris Marion. Inclusion and democracy. Oxford University press, 2002.


 Session 5. Deliberative Democracy

(18/11/2021 14-17)

Deliberation is arguably the dominant approach in contemporary approaches to democratic theory. Its key tenets deserve careful scrutiny to understand its ongoing developments.


Required readings

Bächtiger, André, et al., eds. The Oxford handbook of deliberative democracy. Oxford University Press, 2018. Ch.1

Manin, Bernard. "On legitimacy and political deliberation." Political theory 15.3 (1987): 338-368.

Chambers, Simone. "Deliberative democratic theory." Annual review of political science 6.1 (2003): 307-326.


Additional reading (optional)

Dryzek, John S. Discursive democracy: Politics, policy, and political science. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Parkinson, John, and Jane Mansbridge, eds. Deliberative systems: Deliberative democracy at the large scale. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Floridia, Antonio. From participation to deliberation: A critical genealogy of deliberative democracy. Ecpr Press, 2017.

Mansbridge, Jane J. Beyond adversary democracy. University of Chicago Press, 1983.


Session 6. Researching Participation and Deliberation (with Guest Speaker)

(22/11/2021 14-17)

Democracy is changing. Researchers strive to make sense of these developments, finding challenges and envisaging desirable ways forward. One guest speaker (Nicole Curato, University of Canberra) will present her work on democracy in the context of a populist and illiberal regime.


Required readings

Dryzek, John S. "Democratization as deliberative capacity building." Comparative political studies 42.11 (2009): 1379-1402.

Polletta, Francesca. "How participatory democracy became white: Culture and organizational choice." Mobilization: An International Quarterly 10.2 (2005): 271-288.

Mansbridge, Jane, and Katherine Flaster. "The cultural politics of everyday discourse: The case of “male chauvinist”." Critical Sociology 33.4 (2007): 627-660.


Additional readings (optional)

Curato, Nicole. "Deliberative capacity as an indicator of democratic quality: The case of the Philippines." International Political Science Review 36.1 (2015): 99-116.

Marien, Sofie, Marc Hooghe, and Ellen Quintelier. "Inequalities in non-institutionalised forms of political participation: A multi-level analysis of 25 countries." Political studies 58.1 (2010): 187-213.


Session 7. Emerging Democratic Practices

(25/11/2021 14-17)

Among the most promising developments for democracy there are those connected to the so called field of “democratic innovations” and those related to social movements. We explore how their democratizing potential is being researched.


Required readings

Della Porta, Donatella, and Dieter Rucht, eds. Meeting democracy: power and deliberation in global justice movements. Cambridge University Press, 2013. Ch. 1

Felicetti, Andrea. Learning from democratic practices: New perspectives in institutional design, The Journal of Politics (2021).

Smith, Graham. Democratic innovations: Designing institutions for citizen participation. Cambridge University Press, 2009. Ch. 1


Additional readings (optional)

Fishman Robert and Omar Lizardo, “How Macro-Historical Change Shapes Cultural Taste: Legacies of Democratization in Spain and Portugal”American Sociological Review, 78.2 (2013): 213-239.

Elstub, Stephen, and Oliver Escobar, eds. Handbook of democratic innovation and governance. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019. Ch.1

Lafont, Christina “Democracy without shortcuts: A Participatory Conception of Deliberative Democracy”, Oxford University Press, 2019. Ch. 1

Session 4. Participatory Democracy

REPLACEMENT SESSION (see instructions for Session 4 above)

(29/11/2021 16-18)


Obiettivi formativi

Gli studenti acquisiranno una comprensione approfondita della teoria democratica, dei suoi principali sviluppi e delle diverse tradizioni.

Gli studenti saranno in grado di riflettere criticamente sul rapporto tra studi empirici e teorici sulla democrazia, con particolare attenzione agli sviluppi recenti.

Gli studenti saranno incoraggiati a comprendere i dibattiti sulla teoria democratica nel contesto di sviluppi più ampi nella ricerca accademica, nei dibattiti intellettuali e nei cambiamenti politici.

Gli studenti riceveranno informazioni su come la teoria democratica potrebbe essere utilizzata nel contesto della propria ricerca.