ASTK18279U Legitimacy and Representation in Modern Governance: From Normative Questions to Empirics

Volume 2019/2020

Bachelor student (2012 programme curriculum): 10 ECTS

Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


Questions of legitimate rule, political representation and accountability are paramount in political science. Given the multiple sources and forms of power in global governance these questions have become increasingly complicated. This course blends normative political theory with empirical analyses to speak to questions such as:

Are national governments (still) responsive to their constituents? In what way is the European Union (EU) in a legitimacy crisis? What is (normatively) wrong with the United Nation (UN) Security Council? From which perspective is the power of the World Bank (not) legitimate? (How) can non-governmental organisations (NGOs) be held accountable?


The course is split into a three parts:


Part 1) Conceptual Basics

In the first part of the course, students will read and discuss seminal theoretical literature on the concepts of legitimacy and representation and related concepts such as accountability, authority and politicisation.


Part 2) Applications to Modern Governance

The second part then applies these concepts in empirical analyses of various political actors, namely national governments, international organisations (IOs), the EU, (international) assemblies, civil society organizations, interest groups and the judiciary.


Part 3) Conclusions and Culmination of Student Projects

In the third and last part we will conclude by discussing and strengthening student projects on puzzles about legitimacy and representation in modern governance  with special emphasis on developing a suitable research design


The overall aim of the course is to equip students with the skills to design their own analyses of important normative questions in politics today by using:

1) consistent and compelling theoretical arguments and

2) strong and carefully selected empirical evidence. 

Over the duration of the course students will, in teams or individually, work on a selected normative puzzle by developing both a conceptual approach and an empirical strategy.


More specifically, the course structure will be as follows:


Part 1: Conceptual Basics

1. Introduction: Normative Puzzles and Course Objectives

2. Legitimacy

3. Representation

4. Authority, Accountability and Politicisation


Part 2: Applications to Important Actors in Modern Governance

5. National Governments

6. The European Union (EU) and its Institutions

7. International Organisations I: Framework and Examples

8. International Organisations II: Coping Strategies

9. Assemblies

10. Civil Society

11. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Interest Groups

12. The Judiciary


Part 3: Conclusions and Culmination of Student Projects

13. Research Design Lab

14. Conclusions and project pitches

Learning Outcome


  • Students know the legitimacy challenges involved in modern governance at national and transnational level, and with regard to specific institutions such as national governments, international organisations (IOs), the European Union, civil society actors and (international) courts.
  • Students know different conceptions of key normative concepts connected to representation and legitimacy, can locate them in theoretical traditions and discuss their main assumptions
  • Students know how qualitative and quantitative methods can be applied to evaluate normative questions empirically 



  • Students can make consistent normative arguments orally and in writing, using examples/cases/empirics to substantiate their reasoning
  • Students can apply different conceptualizations and operationalisations of key concepts, including legitimacy, representation, accountability
  • Students can develop an analytical strategy/research design including suitable methods to study (normatively) important questions  in political science



  • Students can develop criteria to critically evaluate  institutions and actor behaviour in various contexts
  • Students can select appropriate methods to gather evidence for selected purposes in academic and non-academic environments

The great majority of readings for the course are state-of-the-art journal articles. In addition, relevant books and edited volumes are:


Beetham, D. (1991). The Legitimation of Power. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International.


Pitkin, H. F. (1967). The concept of representation. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Scharpf, F. W. (1999). Governing in Europe: Effective and democratic? Oxford: Oxford University Press.


J. Tallberg, K. Bäckstrand, and J. A. Scholte (Eds.) (2018). Legitimacy in Global Governance: Sources, Processes, and Consequences (pp. 101–118). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


D. Zaum (Ed.), (2012).Legitimating International Organizations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


J. W. van Deth and W. A. Maloney (eds) (2012) New ‘Participatory’ Dimensions in Civil Society: Professionalization and Individualized Collective Action. London: Routledge


Kohler-Koch, B (2013). De-Mystification of Participatory Democracy: EU Governance and Civil Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


A. Follesdal, G. Ulfstein, H. G. Cohen, and N. Grossman (Eds.) (2018). Legitimacy and International Courts (pp. 143-173). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Students should choose this course if they are curious about normative and empirical aspects of political science. The course literature will bring together both elements and rely on a basic understanding of methods (qualitative and quantitative) applied in academic texts. Yet the course also aims at considerably advancing this understanding, and equip students with analytical skills that are helpful, for example, for designing their Master thesis project.
The sessions in this class will include both teacher-led and interactive elements aimed at understanding and critically discussing the design and theoretical assumptions in latest research on legitimacy problems and democratic representation.

Moreover, the course is structured to enable the design of student-led projects with normative and empirical components. Teams of up to three students will form in the beginning of the course and work on a selected normatively relevant puzzle throughout the course. Their work will be submitted as a portfolio in two parts: Part 1) will be an assignment asking them to discuss the relevance of their chosen question and critically assess key concepts related to it. Part 2) will ask them to develop an empirical strategy to study their selected question.

The course literature provides the theoretical and methodological toolbox for this work. Moreover, the class sessions will include peer feedback and project pitches in order to give course participants the possibility to fine-tune their project and improve their writing and oral communication skills.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Portfolio exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Free written assignment

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