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Democracy & Struggles for Social Justice - POL00004I

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  • Department: Politics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Gabriele Badano
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

Democracy and justice are appealing ideals that liberal democratic institutions aim to satisfy together. This module’s goal is to critically discuss whether liberal democracy is indeed fit for purpose. To pursue it, the module explores difficult questions around the meaning of democracy and justice and applies existing theoretical frameworks to concrete political issues.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2021-22 to Summer Term 2021-22

Module aims

For all their variety, most political systems in the global north can be characterised as liberal democracies, electing their leaders according to one-person-one-vote and upholding rights of association and participation, rule of law, equality of opportunity, and more. A normative commitment to these practices is even more widespread; few regimes advertise themselves as illiberal and even fewer reject the claim that they are democratic in some sense.

Still, there is great confusion over what liberal democracy even means. This module will explore how liberalism and democracy should be understood as well as the ways they come together and pull apart. Moreover, liberal democracy is often said to be in crisis, and there are legitimate questions about whether it is up to all the challenges governments must handle. Lower socio-economic classes, persons with disabilities, members of racial and cultural minorities, women and members of the LGBT+ community all raise claims of justice. In this module, we will critically examine whether liberal democratic institutions can be fair to all these groups or whether we need to move beyond liberal democracy itself.

The course is structured into two parts. The first part, in the Autumn term, will focus on theories of democracy, asking: Is the ‘will of the people’ meaningless? If not, how might we come to know it (or create it)? Why should we prefer majority rule to alternative decision procedures? Is individual freedom consistent with democracy? Who should be included within democratic decisions, and who should be excluded? When - if ever - should judges overrule elected politicians? We will focus on contemporary philosophical arguments around democracy but anchor them in a range of contemporary and historical examples, including the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

The second part, in the Spring term, will address contemporary liberalism, starting with the classic work of John Rawls on justice but then turning to authors probing the limits of liberal approaches.  Is the stress placed by liberal philosophers on the redistribution of material resources excessive, or is it insufficient? Does liberal theory actually realise its ambition to be inclusive of all groups in society? We will examine these and other questions with reference to concrete issues of justice surrounding social class, gender, race, disability and multiculturalism.

Module learning outcomes

  • To develop in students a critical understanding of approaches to and problems in contemporary political philosophy;
  • To develop students' analytical, argumentative and communicative skills;
  • To develop a critical understanding of approaches to and problems in contemporary political philosophy;
  • To develop an ability to advance and analyse arguments in political philosophy.

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
2000 word essay
N/A 40
Online Exam
Democracy & Struggles for Social Justice
N/A 60

Special assessment rules

None

Reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
2000 word essay
N/A 40
Online Exam
Democracy & Struggles for Social Justice
N/A 60

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Students will receive written feedback on their summative assessment no later than 20 working days after submission; and the module tutor will hold a specific session to discuss feedback, which students can also opt to attend. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s regular feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

David Estlund (ed.), Democracy (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001).

Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971/revised edition 1999).



The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.