Module code: POL3081

Module Overview

In a time of increasing challenges to the core components of representative democracy, this course provides an introduction to populism in theory and practice, employing an increasingly consensual ideational approach to populism. It introduces participants to an extensive conceptual debate, historical and current populist forces, their characteristics, causes and consequences, as well as the often-ambivalent relationship between populism and democracy.

Module provider


Module Leader

VAN HAUWAERT Steven (Politics)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 6

JACs code: L210

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 100

Seminar Hours: 22

Guided Learning: 17

Captured Content: 11

Module Availability

Semester 1

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

Populism has become a much-debated and well-researched theme. The term is often ill-defined and used in a pejorative manner, contributing to misconceptions and inaccurate interpretations of what is populism and, more importantly, what it is not. The course will introduce participants to an extensive conceptual, theoretical and empirical scholarship on populism. This will provide participants with a more precise understanding of the concept and allow for consideration of the various ways we can examine populism. Building on this, the course discusses instances of populism in various contexts and reflects on the ambivalent relationship between populism and democracy. Throughout this discussion, the course explicitly takes a comparative approach and relies both on quantitative and qualitative analyses in support of its discussions. Special attention will be paid to the core features of populism, such as anti-elitism and popular sovereignty, as well as its causes and consequences for democratic functioning.

Indicative content includes:

  • Concept: The ideational approach to populism

  • Historical and contemporary populist forces

  • Characteristics and features of populism

  • The ambivalent relationship between populism and democracy

  • Causes and consequences of populism

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework RESEARCH PLAN (1500 WORDS) 30
Coursework RESEARCH PAPER (4000 WORDS) 70

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of and capacity to engage with conceptual/theoretical debates.

  • employ theory to underpin an explanation of a particular research question.

  • employ empirical evidence to make a theoretical argument.

  • use the comparative method to build (or revise/qualify) a theoretical argument

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

  • Research plan – 1,500 words – 30%

  • Research paper – 4,000 words – 70%

Formative assessment and feedback

Students will receive verbal feedback in class concerning their contribution. 

Module aims

  • Identify the key instances of populism in a range of different geographical and historical settings.
  • Develop a position on how populism should be conceptualized and, possibly, defined.
  • Gain a sophisticated understanding of the causes and dynamics of populist mobilisation.
  • Identify recurrent features in the government style of populist leaders that are in office, particularly in relation to compliance with democratic standards/procedures.
  • Engage with debates on the relationship between populism and democracy.

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Competently engage in an academic discussion on the essence, the causes and the impact of populism. K
002 Link specific cases of populist mobilization or populist governance with general trends of socio-cultural and/or socio-economic change. KC
003 Discuss the relationships between social structure, political culture and political institutions in shaping the way populism (may) interact(s) with democracy. KC
004 Develop a deeper understanding of logic and use of the comparative method: gather, organise and deploy evidence/data in a comparative perspective. CT
005 Develop research, writing and presentation skills. PT
006 Work independently, demonstrating initiative, self-organisation and time-management. PT

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to:

Build on students’ existing knowledge gained through in particular POL 2029 and POL2035 by developing their understanding of why and how populism develops in democratic systems and authoritarian electoral regimes. This is done through an interactive lecture in which students are able to engage with the subject content as well as seminar activities. The latter are there to ensure that students are connecting with the topic through student-led discussion.

The learning and teaching methods include:

•           1 hour lecture per week x 11 weeks

•           1 hour seminar per week including class discussion x 11 weeks

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list

Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: POL3081

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Public Affairs MPA 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Politics with Creative Writing BSc (Hons) 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Politics and Sociology BSc (Hons) 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
International Relations BSc (Hons) 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Politics BSc (Hons) 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Law with International Relations LLB (Hons) 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Politics and Economics BSc (Hons) 1 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2022/3 academic year.