PIR-10055 - Modern Democracies
Coordinator: Liz Carter Room: CBA2.009 Tel: +44 1782 7 34248
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 4
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office:

Programme/Approved Electives for 2023/24


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2023/24

At a time when democratic institutions have never been under more scrutiny, it is more important than ever to learn about the foundations of political systems and the institutions that lie at the heart of modern democracies. Why do some countries have presidents and others prime ministers? Is it better to have a government formed of just one party or many parties? How do voters choose their political representatives, and is this done in a fair, simple and representative way? How powerful are parliaments, and how many houses should a parliament have? Why is power centralised in some countries and decentralised to states or regions in others? Should it be easy or difficult to change the constitution? How much power should judges have? And all in all, is there such a thing as a `best┐ political system?
On this module, we will consider these questions by examining how democracies work. We will investigate the key features of democratic political systems, and how political systems operate in a range of countries. We will see how and why political institutions and processes vary, and analyse and evaluate what is good and not so good about these different systems. By referring to concepts such as governmental effectiveness and efficiency, representation, legitimacy, accountability, and other measures of democratic quality, we will explore what the `best┐ political system is.
Teaching on this module is delivered in 11 one-hour lectures and 9 one-hour seminars, supported by a range of online resources. Over the course of this module, you will acquire new knowledge and understanding of how political systems are structured and how they function. You will also develop your analytical and evaluation skills by considering the strengths and weaknesses of different political systems, and by exploring their consequences. You will also be introduced to basic numerical data used in Comparative Politics, and you will develop the skills to interpret and evaluate this data. Seminars will be structured around discussions and debates, allowing you to strengthen your oral communication skills. The two assessments will enhance your written communication skills, specifically your ability to produce coherent and concise reports, and your time management skills. The second assessment will also develop your data analysis skills. These are skills that are fundamental to the study of Politics and of all social science subjects, and that are highly valued by employers.
This module fits into the Politics programme by providing an introduction to Comparative Politics, which is one of the key fields of the discipline of Politics, and it forms a solid foundation upon which you will build in later modules at Keele.

This module aims to:
- Provide a Level 4 introduction to the terminology, concepts and principles of Comparative Politics upon which students will build in later Politics modules at Keele
- Increase students┐ knowledge of political institutions, processes and systems, and enhance their understanding of how these function
- Cultivate skills to analyse and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different political systems and their consequences
- Cultivate skills to effectively interpret and evaluate empirical information (including basic numerical data) about political institutions, processes and systems in a comparative fashion
- Enhance written communication skills to impart complex information, ideas and arguments, clearly and effectively
- Enhance skills needed to effectively plan, structure and take personal responsibility for individual learning

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Describe and appraise a range of different concepts central to the study of Comparative Politics and to political structures and processes present in all democracies: 1,2
Describe the characteristics of specific political institutions; analyse how they work; and evaluate their consequences: 1,2
Compare the political institutions of different countries, analyse their differences, and critically evaluate their consequences: 1,2
Interpret and evaluate basic numerical data presented in forms consistent with the discipline of Comparative Politics: 2
Communicate knowledge, ideas and arguments clearly and effectively in written format: 1,2

Study hours

Active learning hours:
11 hours of lectures
9 hours of seminars
5 hours structured engagement with online resources (online quizzes)
Independent study hours
40 hours: reading and preparation for seminars
35 hours: preparation for short paper (reading / researching, note-taking; drafting and writing)
50 hours: preparation for data analysis report (reading / researching, note-taking; drafting and writing)

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Short Paper weighted 40%
800-word short paper
Students will produce an 800-word paper in which they will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of one feature of political systems in two different democracies. They will be able to choose which one feature to focus on, from a list of options (e.g. format of the executive, format of the legislature, format of the party system, type of electoral system, territorial division of power). Each student will produce their own individual piece of work.

2: Individual Report weighted 60%
1200-word data analysis report
Students will be presented with a chart on which a number of countries have been placed according to their democratic attributes. They will also be directed to the data (contained in the appendix of the module textbook) on which this chart is built. They will work individually to produce a 1200-word report outlining and explaining how and why (with reference to the data) two chosen countries differ with regard to their democratic systems.