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Unit information: Democracy, Dictatorship and Post-Communism in 2015/16

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Unit name Democracy, Dictatorship and Post-Communism
Unit code POLI31383
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Magnus Feldmann
Open unit status Not open




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


The collapse of communism is one of the most dramatic political changes that the world has experienced. Some of the approximately thirty post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are now consolidated democracies, whereas others are authoritarian or hybrid ('competitive authoritarian') systems. The unit examines the nature of these political systems and how these differences emerged. It also sheds some comparative light on countries (esp. China) which have implemented reforms but which are still officially communist. The unit discusses a range of theoretical approaches to democratisation and regime change, including the role of history, culture, institutional design, economic factors and international factors, and applies them to the post-communist countries. The unit reflects on many questions which are of general and comparative interest: Why do countries democratise? Why do some democracies survive, whereas others collapse and turn into authoritarian regimes? Can democratisation be designed, or do democracies only emerge as a result of specific historical legacies? Can international organisations foster democratisation? Does democratisation lead to changes in political elites, policy-making and political behaviour?


  • To analyse the determinants and consequences of democracy, democratisation and democratic consolidation
  • To discuss theories of regime change, incl. the challenges of simultaneous economic and political reforms
  • To analyse different types of authoritarian regimes and reasons for their resilience
  • To discuss the collapse of communism and the emergence of post-communist political systems
  • To discuss the political systems in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as well as communist resilience in China.

Intended learning outcomes

Upon completion of this unit students will:

  • be familiar with the most important theories of democratisation and democratic consolidation
  • be familiar with different kinds of democratic and authoritarian systems
  • be familiar with the role of history, culture, class politics, institutional design, economic factors, transition pacts and international factors in democratisation
  • be familiar with some political consequences of democratisation
  • be familiar with the political systems in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and with the core features of the communist system in China.

Teaching details

A 1hr lecture and 2 hour seminar

Assessment Details

Each of the learning outcomes will be assessed formatively and summatively as follows:

  • 2000 word essay: 25%
  • 2-hour unseen exam: 75%

Reading and References

  • Stephen White, Judy Batt and Paul G. Lewis (2003), Developments in Central and Eastern Europe, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan (1996), Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • M. Steven Fish (2005), Democracy Derailed in Russia: The Failure of Open Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Grzegorz Ekiert and Stephen E. Hanson (2003), Capitalism and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Adam Przeworski (1991), Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way (forthcoming), Competitive Authoritarianism: The Origins and Evolution of Hybrid Regimes in the Post-Cold War Era, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press