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POLS208 Democracy

An introduction to the history and major theoretical interpretations of democracy in Europe, United States and New Zealand.

This paper provides a forum to consider and discuss the past, present and future of democracy. It focuses on Athenian, liberal representative and socialist participatory democracy, the history of democracy in Europe and the United States, and contemporary liberal, socialist and feminist interpretations of democracy.

The paper focuses on the origins of democracy in Ancient Greece (Section 1), the historical emergence and key characteristics of liberal representative democracy (Section 2), socialist participatory democracy (Section 3), and issues pertaining to the future of democracy in Section 4, such as the implications of global warming for the future of democracy, the extent to which globalisation is creating problems for democracy with respect to both national and international governance and, in this regard, whether or not cosmopolitan social democracy provides viable solutions to these problems and the alternatives to neoliberal capitalism and representative democracy.

Paper title Democracy
Paper code POLS208
Subject Politics
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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One 100-level POLS paper or PHIL 103 or 72 points
Schedule C
Arts and Music

The course assumes little prior knowledge of the history of democracy and democratic theory. An interest in political history, political theory, critical perspectives, and contemporary issues in international affairs is an advantage.

Teaching staff

Associate Professor Brian Roper

Paper Structure


  1. What is Democracy?

Section 1: Athenian Democracy

  1. Athenian Democracy 508-322BC: Background, Emergence and Institutions
  2. Athenian Democracy 508-322BC: Institutions and Social Dimension
  3. Athenian Democracy 508-322BC: Critical Evaluation

Section 2: Liberal Representative Democracy

  1. What is Representative Democracy? The Liberal Pluralist View
  2. The English Revolution 1640-88: Background, Context and Key Actors
  3. The English Revolution 1640-88: Main Events and Significance for the Historical Emergence of Liberal Democracy
  4. The Revolutionary Revival of Democracy in France 1789-95: Background, Context and Key Actors
  5. The Revolutionary Revival of Democracy in France 1789-95: Main Events and Significance for the Historical Emergence of Liberal Democracy
  6. The American Revolution 1776-1791: Background, Context and Main Events
  7. The US Constitution and Bill of Rights: Redefining Democracy
  8. The Liberal Justification of Capitalism and Representative Democracy
  9. The Liberal Critique of Socialism and Participatory Democracy

Section 3: Socialist Participatory Democracy

  1. The Marxist Critique of Capitalism: Inequality, Crisis, Alienation, War, and Environment
  2. The Marxist Critique of Representative Democracy
  3. The Paris Commune 1871 and Socialist Democracy
  4. The Russian Revolution 1917: Significance and Main Events
  5. The Russian Revolution 1917: A Democratic Revolution?
  6. The Rise and Fall of Stalinism: Death of Socialism?
  7. Revolution, Socialism and Participatory Democracy

Section 4: Democracy in the 21st Century

  1. Global Warming and Climate Change: Is Capitalism Environmentally Sustainable?
  2. The Debate between Socialists and Liberals Concerning the Future of Democracy (1)
  3. The Debate between Socialists and Liberals Concerning the Future of Democracy (2)
  4. The Feminist Critique of Liberalism and Representative Democracy
  5. Cosmopolitan Social Democracy: A Feasible Alternative to Neoliberalism?
  6. Movements for Progressive Change in the 21st Century: Global Justice Movement, Anti-War, Occupy, Climate Justice and other Progressive Social Movements
Teaching Arrangements

Two 50 minute lectures each week plus 8 x 50 minute tutorials.

Brian S. Roper, The History of Democracy - A Marxist Interpretation, Pluto Press, London, 2013.
Course reader.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Critical thinking, Ethics.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Above all, this paper aims to help you develop an understanding of the history of democracy; liberal, socialist and feminist interpretations of democracy; and contemporary debates concerning the future of democracy.

This paper encourages you to engage in an open-minded yet critical manner with this historical material and these perspectives in order to provide you with the opportunity of developing and strengthening your own understanding of democracy.

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Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system