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Debating Political Institutions


Debating political institutions


Political institutions are well-known for their stickiness; they are difficult to change. This does not stop political scientists from debating their merits. Imagine that you were given the opportunity to design a democratic country’s political institutions from scratch. What institutions would you select? Why? This course centers around debating the normative arguments as well as the empirical evidence, regarding the advantages and disadvantages of ten of such democratic institutional choices (the exact debate questions will be refined in the course syllabus):
1 At what age should citizens be allowed to vote? 2 Should voting be mandatory? 3 Should parliament be elected through a PR or a majoritarian electoral system? 4 Should there be a directly elected president? 5 should there be parliamentary quota for women? 6 Should extremist parties be banned? 7 Should there be binding referendums? 8 Should there be constitutional review of laws? 9 Should the country seek nuclear weapons? 10 Should the government be given the power to rehack democracy, so to speak?

Course Objectives
1. Introduce students to a selection of central practical debates in politics and political science.
2. Invite students to weight the advantages and disadvantages of a selection of political institutional choices, asking them to gauge the quality of normative arguments as well as empirical evidence.
3. Allow students to develop their debate, argumentation, discussion and writing skills.

Method of Instruction*

Formal debates and seminar-style discussions

Study Material

A selection of journal articles and book chapters, available from the (digital) library of the University (listed in the syllabus which will be posted on Brightspace prior to the start of the course).

Assessment Method

Two formal in-class team debates (2x 25% = 50%)
Two individual argumentative position papers (betoog) (20% +30% = 50%)
There are ten debate topics; two sets of five (1-5, 6-10). From each set, students select one topic for which they will hold a formal in-class team debate (who debates which topic is determined after the syllabus is posted on Brightspace on the basis of first-come-first-serve, and an equal distribution of students among debates). From the remaining topics in each set, students select one that they will write an argumentative position paper about. Each student thus participates in two debates (each formal debate takes about 45 minutes, and is followed by a 30-minute student-led discussion) and hands in two papers of 1,500 words each. There are no retake opportunities.
Paper 1 deadline = Friday November 25th 17:00
Paper 2 deadline = Friday December 23rd 17:00

Because this course is open to political science minor programme students as well as study abroad and exchange students, lectures, in-class debates, and discussions are in English. Papers may be written in English or Dutch, however.