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Unit information: Democracy and US Government in 2015/16

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Unit name Democracy and US Government
Unit code POLI21226
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
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 in some detail the institutions, politics and policy controversies that mark the US American polity. The course revolves around the concepts of democracy, liberty and equality, probing the uneasy and often paradoxical application of these principles. We pay particular attention to the linkages between the US public and elites and how these relationships coincide (or not) with the democratic claims of the system. Throughout the course, we shall be evaluating the democratic/undemocratic, liberal/illiberal and egalitarian/inegalitarian strains that run throughout the US polity and challenging the preconceptions that often function to obscure our understanding of this highly complex political system. Whilst the course will address illustrative policy areas, such as the Constitution and the death penalty, interest groups and gun control, and the courts and abortion, students are also expected to apply their accumulated knowledge to discuss broader questions relating to the nature of US democracy.

Unit aims:

  • To present an analysis of US government and politics and probe common assumptions and stereotypes about the 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 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 political and institutional workings of the US political system and an appreciation of the complexity of these structures and processes.
  2. an appreciation of theories of democracy and the ability to relate these theories and debates to the structural, political and institutional context of American politics.
  3. an understanding of the capacity for political and policy leadership in relation to structural and contextual constraints.

Teaching Information

2 hours of lectures and 1 hour seminar

Assessment Information

  • Formative: 1500 word essay or equivalent
  • Summative: 3,000 word essay.

Both assessments assess all learning outcomes.

Reading and References

  • Barbour, Christine and Wright, Gerald (2014) Keeping the Republic, Sage.
  • Hudson, William E. (2013) American Democracy in Peril: Eight Challenges to America’s Future, 7th Edition, London: Sage.
  • Kernell, et al (2014) The Logic of American Politics, 6th Edition, London: Sage.
  • La Raja, Raymond J. (2013) New Directions in American Politics, Routledge.
  • McKay, David, Houghton, David and Wroe, Andrew (2002) Controversies in American Politics and Society, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Miroff, Bruce, Seidelman, Raymond, Swanstrom, Todd, and de Luca, Tom (2010) The Democratic Debate: American Politics in an Age of Change, 5th Edition, Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage.
  • Miroff, Bruce, Seidelman, Raymond and Swanstrom, Todd (Eds.) (2012) Debating Democracy: A Reader in American Politics, 7th Edition, Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage.
  • Peele, G., Bailey, CJ., Cain, B., and Peters, B.G (eds) (2014) Developments In American Politics 6 (Basingstoke: Palgrave)
  • Singh, Robert (2003a) Contemporary American Politics and Society: Issues and Controversies, London: Sage.
  • Singh, Robert (Ed.) (2003b) Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.