The course is designed to deepen the students’ existing knowledge on political parties and party systems. In most democracies political parties are central actors in the mediation of policy preferences and governmental outcomes. Their study can teach us about the nature of power, about the dynamics of collective political action and about the intersections of social conditions and political institutions. The course employs a comparative perspective, and focuses on the most influential theoretical models of the field, presenting socio-cultural, rational choice, historical, institutionalist and agency-focused explanations for various phenomena in the field of party politics.
The topics covered in the course begin with a look at the functions and origins of political parties, the social background of party politics, the institutional incentives that shape party politics, and at the organizational dilemmas of political parties. The second bloc focuses on aspects of party competition and representation: how parties behave in parliaments and governments, and how are they related to each other. We will focus on the stability, fragmentation, representativeness and competitiveness of party systems. In the last section the course examines the role of parties in new and non-liberal democracies and it reflects on the normative aspect of contemporary challenges in party politics. A number of further topics, like the mobilization of voters, the explanation of electoral success, the nature of clientelistic and charismatic appeals, the difference between mainstream and extremist parties, or the ethnic aspects of party politics will also feature in the course but will not be focused upon.