POL42460 Understanding Political Parties

Academic Year 2022/2023

This course draws on political science research in order to understand what role political parties play in modern representative democracy, and what influence their internal organisation has on their ability to fulfil this role. Consequently, this module will probe some of the most important questions and concerns that continue to surround political parties. For example, what role are political parties supposed to play in representative democracy? Would it be better if parties withered away, to be replaced by other forms of interest aggregation and representation? Do the organisational choices of parties help them to fulfil this role, or hinder their ability to do so? Just how internally democratic are parties, and should we expect them to be more democratic? This course will provide an extensive overview of what role parties are supposed to fulfil in modern democracies, as well as prominent critiques and challenges to this role. In addition, it will probe the influence of party members, and how the organisational form of political parties has developed over time. By the end of the module, students will have a strong understanding of political parties in a comparative context, both in terms of their function and their internal life.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module, students should have an enhanced understanding of the following topics, and the relevant academic literature:
• The theoretical arguments for why parties are important in representative democracy, and prominent critiques of parties and their role;
• The development of party organisations over time, and the different models party organisation can follow;
• The role of party members in the internal life of political parties;
• The different forms of candidate selection within parties;
• How factionalism operates within parties;
• Discuss the current and future challenges facing political parties, including from alternative forms of governance.

Furthermore, by the end of this module, students should be able to:
• Critically engage with academic writings and theories;
• Explain key concepts about parties to others both verbally and in writing; and
• Utilise empirical evidence from political parties across representative democracies when engaging with, or developing, theories.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Autonomous Student Learning






Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
- Seminar discussion
- Active/task-based learning
- Peer and group work 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Project: Policy memo Unspecified n/a Graded No


Project: Research Proposal Unspecified n/a Graded No


Assignment: Response Paper Unspecified n/a Graded No


Presentation: Presentation Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Summer No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Not yet recorded.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Tues 11:00 - 12:50