ASTK15384U COURSE: Democratic Challenge

Volume 2015/2016

Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS

Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS


The aim of this course is to provide an in-depth analysis of the main challenges to democratic government in Europe and elsewhere. To what extent has traditional representative democracy become an inadequate mode of government, and how do pressing issues such as multiculturalism, democratic deficits, inequality, and climate change encourage us to rethink the very idea of democracy?

The first part of course will examine these questions with a focus on new theories of democracy such as republicanism (Pettit), agonism (Honig and Tully), communism (Badiou and Dean), and new materialism (Bennett and Connolly). The second part of the course will turn to actual political issues in order to further advance the discussion of democratic government in the 21st century. Among the topics to be discussed are tolerance, security, free speech, forms of direct action, new global social movements, and climate change.


Competency description:

This course enhances the students’ ability to think critically and to combine complex theories with insights from the contemporary political world. Emphasis will be on the ability to present a coherent argument, to discuss and evaluate competing claims, and to write in concise and clear manner. The course will be relevant for students interested in working with complex issues in politics and elsewhere.

Learning Outcome

The objective of the course is to enable the students to:


  • Describe the main schools of thought in contemporary democratic theory.
  • Present and analyze key trends and lines of disagreement in contemporary democratic theory.
  • Apply the theories to issues such as tolerance, free speech, security, social movements, and climate change.
  • Combine and synthesize contributions (theoretical or otherwise) to discussions about democracy in the 21st century.
  • Evaluate the validity of the various theorists’ arguments.

The following is a preliminary reading list. Other materials will be added before the beginning of the semester.


Arendt, Hannah (1969) ‘Civil Disobedience’.

Bennett, Jane (2010) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.

Blyth, Mark (2014) Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea.

Bosteels, Bruno (2014) The Actuality of Communism.

Brown, Wendy (2006) Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in an Age of Identity and Empire.

Connolly, William (2013) The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neo-Liberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism.

Dean, Jodi (2010) The Communist Horizon.

Forst, Rainer (2013) Toleration in Conflict.

Graeber, David (2009) Direct Action: An Ethnography.

Honig, Bonnie (2013) Antigone, Interrupted.

Klein, Naomi (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

Mahmood, Saba (2009) ‘Religious Reason and Secular Affect: An Incommensurable Divide?’ Critical Inquiry, Vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 835-861.

March, Andrew (2011) ‘Speaking about Muhammed, Speaking for Muslims’, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 806-821.

Newman, Saul (2014) 'Occupy and Autonomous Political Life' in Radical Democracy and Collective Movements Today.

Pettit, Philip (1999) Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government.

Thomassen, Lasse & Marina Prentoulis (2013) 'Political Theory in the Square: Protest, Representation and Subjectivation', Contemporary Political Theory, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 166-184.

Warren, Mark E. & Hillary Pearse, eds. (2008) Designing Deliberative Democracy: The British Columbia Citizens' Assembly.


This course presupposes an interest in political theory broadly conceived. The course is required for students enrolled in the Specialization in Political Theory. All other students are welcome as well.
This course will consist of a combination of lectures, student presentations and discussions, and possibly talks by guest lecturers. The course will be co-taught by Benjamin Ask Popp-Madsen and Lars Tønder.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Course Preparation
  • 95
  • Exam
  • 1
  • Exam Preparation
  • 50
  • Exercises
  • 12
  • Preparation
  • 20
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner