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COURSE NAME: "Special Topics in Political Science: Populism"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Summer Session II 2018

INSTRUCTOR: Lars Rensmann
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MTWTH 11:10-1:00 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing
OFFICE HOURS: by appointment

An in-depth treatment of a current area of special concern in the field of Political Science. Topics may vary.
May be taken more than once for credit with different topics.

This upper-level course will focus on contemporary populism and populist politics, which currently challenge Western liberal democracies and their party systems. While populism as a political style or ‘thin’ ideology is not limited to parties and actors classified as “populist,” populist parties and movements have seen a dramatic rise in popularity and electoral support in recent years. The seminar explores the nature and dynamics of this political phenomenon, the origins and causes of populist politics--as well as the conditions for its success. Situating the rise of various populist parties and movements in a comparative European,  American and global context, the course will examine parties, cases, issues, cross-national similarities, variations--and implications of populist politics and the rise of populist parties. In search for explanations of what Cas Mudde has aptly called the “populist Zeitgeist” and the current transformation of political landscapes in Western democracies, we will also take broader socio-cultural changes and conflicts within Western societies into account—looking beyond party systems, platforms, and elections.

The course provides, first, a theoretical framework and different methodological approaches to the study of populism. The second and third week are dedicated to empirically exploring the rise of populism and populist parties in domestic, European, and global contexts, and understanding distinct, often partly context-dependent factors enabling this rise and variations of success--such as specific cultural legacies; lack of trust in parties and political institutions; the migration crisis; the Great Recession; or trends of political polarization. Special attention is paid to the distinct North American, Latin American, Western, Eastern and Southern European political environments. In the fourth week, the course will compare and contrast the different cases, and draw comparative conclusions from different methodological perspectives. This section will also explore broader socio-cultural conflicts and dimensions, including transformed conditions of political communication in the age of social media, that engender the increased cross-national cultural attraction of populist parties and actors in the globalized age. In the fifth and final week, implications for liberal democracy and policy responses to the populist challenge will be explored.



This course exposes students to the long marginalized but increasingly relevant field of populism and populist politics, which are currently unsettling Western democracies. In the seminar  students will discuss relevant empirical, theoretical and methodological scholarly texts on populism in a variety of ways, i.e. small groups discussions, readings questions and group presentations. In the course of the seminar, students will also work on their own research designs and draft versions of their research paper in and outside of class. During in-class peer review sessions and plenary discussions about common research bottlenecks and problems students will receive feedback on their research design and draft texts. By the end of the block students will get time to process the feedback given by the lecturer and their peers and finalize the final version of their research paper.


Students will:


familiarize with cutting edge scholarship on populism;


develop their methodological competences in political science;


develop their own applied research skills on a pressing subject of global politics and contemporary political science;


advance their critical thinking competences in relation to empirical and normative challenges of populism and (il)liberal democracy today.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
European Populism in the Shadow of the Great RecessionKriesi, Hanspeter & Takis S. PappasECPR Press978-1785522345  
Populism: A Very Short IntroductionMudde, Cas & Cristóbal Rovira KaltwasserOxford University Press978-0190234874  

Mid-term examThe mid-term in this course counts for 20% of your final grade. It will be an in-class examination (1 hour) which will primarily focus on the reading materials and lectures but will also ask for your point of view, and arguments backing it up. Good knowledge of the reading material, carefully listening to the lectures, and thinking about the issues of concern will ensure that you receive a good grade.20%
Reading reflections/response papersReading reflections are exercises in careful reading and reflection of academic articles. The should be no longer than 2 pages that summarize key concepts and arguments as well as display critical thinking and processing in relation to these arguments. Reading reflections should ideally help you to return to an article you have read and processed without reading it again. 20%
Final research paper, 8-10 pagesThe research paper (max 3500 words) must be based on an adequate selection of at least 10 scholarly sources amounting to 400-500 pages of used material. The assignment will be assessed on the basis of the following criteria: • structure and clarity of the argument (consistency of introduction, argument and conclusion) • use of analytical and synthesizing skills with regard to the material consulted • originality • correct spelling and sentence structure as well as stylistic skills • ability to independently find and process literature • suitability of the primary and secondary sources/data//literatures used • correct and careful processing of literature (annotation and justification)50% (incl. 10% research design)
Class participation and presentationAttendance is mandatory; active participation strongly encouraged and taken into account. You will exercise your presentation skills by giving a short in-class presentation on the readings, which will be part of the class participation and presentation assessment.10%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.













Introduction and Concepts






Approaches, Concepts, and Issues

Mudde & Kaltwasser, pp.1-21, 32-37, 42-61 (45pp.)

Reading questions




Approaches, Concepts, and Issues

Moffitt & Tormey

Reading questions; first response paper due




Cases and Applied Methods: The US and Latin America--Trump, Chavez, Morales et al.

Mudde & Kaltwasser, pp. 22-31, 62-78 (30pp.)

Reading questions




Cases and Applied Methods: European Overview and Electoral Success

Van Kessel, additional data

Reading questions




Cases and Applied Methods: the Netherlands


Reading questions; second response paper due




Cases and Applied Methods: Germany & Austria


Reading questions




Cases and Applied Methods: Italy & Southern Europe

Bobba & McDonnell


Reading questions




Cases and Applied Methods:

Hungary & Central Eastern Europe; MID-TERM EXAM


Reading questions




Comparisons, explanations, political impact: Cleavages, actors, and opportunity structures 


Mudde & Kaltwasser, pp.79-96, 97-118

Reading questions; Research design due




Comparisons & explanations, political impact: Discourses and policies


Reading questions




Socio-cultural conflicts, polarization & social media: The impact on liberal Democracy and policy responses



Reading questions




Final Discussion & Evaluation






Research and writing


Research paper due