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Unit information: Democracy and US Government in 2021/22

Unit name Democracy and US Government
Unit code POLI21226
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Van Veeren
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit examines the cultures, institutions, and controversies that mark contemporary US American politics. In particular, the unit develops an understanding of US politics as the product of a set of historically-produced cultural forces in US politics rather than as a set of institutions of government. As the unit explores, the origin of these forces, their interplay and tensions, how they relate to different understandings of democracy, and how these forces produce, are refracted through, and reshape the traditional institutions of US government can be used to understand developments in US politics, including the results of the most recent Presidential election.

In other words, over the course of the term, we therefore use the linkages between US American political cultures and the institutions of US government in order to assess the claims made that the US is a ‘pre-eminent’ democracy, exploring how democracy is not possible unless cultures of privilege are overcome, and critiquing debates that focus on the structure of institutions to ‘engineer’ democracy.

Whilst the unit will address illustrative and traditional topic areas, such as political parties, Congress and the Presidency, we will also focus on race, masculinity, economic inequality, mass media and cultures of (in)security. Throughout, students are expected to apply their accumulated knowledge to discuss broader questions relating to the nature of democracy.

Unit aims:

• To present an analysis of US government and politics and probe common assumptions and stereotypes about the US American system.
• To introduce the core issues confronting the US political system at the beginning of the 21st century.
• To critically evaluate the performance of US American government against its claims to be one of the world’s principal democracies.
• To present an analytical lens through which students can evaluate political, institutional and contextual explanations.

Intended Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes of this unit are to develop:

  1. an understanding of the cultural and political institutional workings of the US political system and an appreciation of the complexity of these cultures, structures and processes.
  2. an appreciation of theories applicable to the study of democracy and the ability to relate these theories and debates to the cultural, structural, political and institutional context of US American politics.
  3. an understanding of the capacity for citizen action in relation to cultural, structural and contextual constraints.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Information

  • 1500 word essay or equivalent (25%)
  • 3,000 word essay (75%)

Both assessments assess all learning outcomes.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. POLI21226).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.