Module Catalogue 2019/20

POL3059 : Democracy and the Constitution

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Ian O'Flynn
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



1. To consider the relationship between democracy and the constitution.
2. To introduce central issues relevant to contemporary debates in political theory.
3. To offer a variety of perspectives on the relationship between democracy and constitutionalism in pluralist societies.
4. To critically evaluate the assumptions underpinning these perspectives by reference to empirical examples.

This module aims to consider two broad questions: (1) what does it mean to say that a system of government is democratic? and (2) why do most democratic states feel the need to constrain democracy by means of a written constitution? It will approach these two questions through an analysis of some of the most important issues in contemporary political theory, including the issues of which model of democracy is best, of how the relationship between democracy and majority rule needs to be understood, of how individual and group rights should be balanced, of which institutions are best for ethnically or nationally divided societies, and of the prospects for democracy at the global scale.

Outline Of Syllabus

This 20 credit module will involve 11 two-hour lectures, supplemented by 10 one-hour seminars. Once formal lectures have finished, the module leader will hold module-specific office hours in his office during the same time-slots.

1. Introduction: aims of the course, its content and organisation
2. Democracy and the constitution
3. Models of democracy 1
4. Models of democracy 2
5. Democracy and distributive justice majority rule
6. Democracy and multiculturalism 1
7. Democracy and multiculturalism 2
8. Democracy, individual rights and group rights
8. Democracy in multinational states 1
9. Democracy in multinational states 2
10. Global constitutional democracy 1
11. Global constitutional democracy 2

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course, students should:
1. Be familiar with central issues, concepts, and principles informing contemporary debates in modern political theory.
2. Know how the theoretical approaches studied contribute to a broader understanding of the discipline of politics.
3. Understand the main features of the theoretical approaches studied, and be able to evaluate their respective strengths and weaknesses.
4. Appreciate the relevance of empirical evidence to normative argument.

Intended Skill Outcomes

Students should acquire not only an understanding of the substantive content of the course, but also more general and transferable intellectual and working skills. These include:
1. The ability to engage in conceptual analysis.
1. The ability to write clearly and concisely.
2. The ability to listen to others thoughtfully and to challenge their views appropriately through critical argument.
3. The ability to engage with texts, theoretical propositions and arguments analytically and critically.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1164:00164:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures are designed to provide students with overviews of the key issues surrounding the relationship between democracy and the constitution, drawing on empirical examples where appropriate.

The seminars will provide an active learning environment in which the understanding of this relationship will be enhanced and in which theoretical and practical controversies surrounding democracy and the constitution, as introduced in the lectures, can be critically explored in greater depth by students.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination901A50N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M502000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The unseen examination will assess students' understanding of key concepts and issues across the entirety of the syllabus

The 2,000 word essay will provide students with the opportunity to explore a particular aspect (or aspects) of the relationship between democracy and the constitution in greater depth. The essay will provide a means of assessing the ability of each student to synthesise the material gained from lectures and seminars with research conducted through independent study. The essay will also assess the ability of each student to critically and succinctly evaluate such material.

Exchange Students:

An alternative form of assessment will be set for exchange students from non-English speaking home institutions replacing the examination. The alternative form of assessment is set in accordance with the University Assessment tariff.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2019/20 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2020/21 entry will be published here in early-April 2019. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.