Undergraduate Module Descriptor

POL3199: Images of Democracy

This module descriptor refers to the 2016/7 academic year.


NQF Level 6
Credits 30 ECTS Value 15
Term(s) and duration

This module ran during term 1 (11 weeks) and term 2 (10 weeks)

Academic staff

Dr Andrew Schaap (Lecturer)

Available via distance learning


Democracy in modern nation states is commonly viewed pragmatically as an institutional arrangement through which political elites ‘acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote’ (Schumpeter). Due to problems of time, scale and the division of labour in large and complex modern societies, representative government provides a practical alternative to the classical model of direct democracy. Yet the image of democracy as a way of life in which ordinary people participate in collective action maintains a grip on our political imagination. This redemptive vision of democracy is often invoked by populist politicians, social movements, advocates of workplace democracy and alternative communities. In this module you will examine two redemptive images of democracy, influenced by classical thought, which are often invoked in radical democratic theory today: distinction and dissensus. You will examine how Hannah Arendt understands democracy in terms of an image of distinction: equals struggling to distinguish their unique identities within the public sphere. The achievement of democratic action, on this account, is to disclose what citizens have in common. You will examine how Jacques Rancière understands democracy in terms of an image of dissensus: a process of politicization through which a marginalized group constitutes itself as political subject. The achievement of democratic action, on this account, is to make visible and audible as public issue what was previously consigned to the private sphere. We will compare and contrast these two redemptive images of democracy in relation to several themes such as social exclusion, conflict, violence, human rights, the idea of ‘the people’ and judgment.


This is an advanced, research-led module in political thought. There are no pre-requisite or co-requisite modules. However, the module will be of particular interest to students with an interest in political philosophy and/or political thought.

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