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Political Parties

Module Code: PO4670 / PO4671

Module Name: Political Parties. This module is NOT OFFERED in 2018-19

  • ECTS weighting: 15 for PO4670, 10 for PO4671
  • Semester / terms taught: Michaelmas + Hilary term
  • Prequisites: the module is not open to visiting students
  • Contact hours: One 2-hour seminar per week
  • Module personnel: module not available in 2018–19

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

  • Describe the role of political parties in contemporary political systems
  • analyse the debates over where power lies within parties and the discussion as to whether this affects the way in which parties perform their functions re the wider society
  • discuss whether political parties are an essential feature of contemporary political systems
  • discuss whether or not political parties require and benefit from members or whether the costs of members may exceed their benefits
  • discuss whether parties have a future, and/or whether the parties of the future will be similar to the parties of today.
  • Understand the meanings of the main dimensions of political conflict in modern democracies and their relationships with the social cleavages in the electorate
  • understand the origins of party systems in modern democracies, as well as their continuous transformations throughout time
  • familiarise themselves with the main party families in Western Europe and Eastern Europe.
  • identify the ways in which dimensions of political conflict in the new democracies of Eastern Europe differ from those in the older democracies, as well as the potential reasons for these differences.


Module learning aims

The aim of the module is to ensure that students who complete it successfully will have a deeper understanding of the roles played by political parties within contemporary political systems and the debates around these roles, of the ways in which parties function, and of the challenges that parties face in the twenty-first century. Additionally, students will have an enhanced understanding of the ideological conflicts among parties in various party systems, as well as the way in which these ideological conflicts reflect social cleavages within the electorate.

Module content

The module studies political parties, in MT focusing primarily though not exclusively on parties as organisations. It looks at what parties do, where power lies within them, and at arguments that parties are inevitably undemocratic organisations, finishing by considering the future prospects of political parties. It looks primarily at parties in first world liberal democracies, particularly western Europe, the USA, Japan, Israel, and Australia.

The Hilary term component of the module will focus on what parties stand for. As such, it will start with defining the meanings of the left–right spectrum in both economic and social terms while emphasising the role played by new issues (such as immigration and EU) in the articulation of the left-right continuum. Then the module will give a historical perspective of how our understanding of this left-right continuum has changed and continues to change. The final part of the module will discuss the main party families (Christian Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Social Democrats, Greens, the Far Right) with examples from Western democracies as well as Eastern Europe.

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Recommended reading list

Detailed readings will be given in the module handouts. A general overview for MT is:

Richard S Katz and William J Crotty (eds), Handbook of Party Politics (London: Sage, 2006).

For HT:

Andrew Heywood, Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 5th ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Assessment details

PO4670: 2 essays, one in each term, each counting 20%; 1 exam, counting 60%.

PO4671: 1 essay, counting 30%; 1 exam, counting 70%.

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