TCD Lectures 11/12

Comparative Political Reform PO4720 / PO4721


2 x 1 hour seminars a week


Course Objectives
A less trusting public, the intensification of cynicism and a global economic crisis have coalesced to place additional demands on democracy at a time when democracy itself is perceived to be incrementally undermined. Instead of regarding these challenges as impediments to the democratic project, this course will outline the intrinsic opportunity of such challenges. The expectations by civil society, in terms of enhanced good governance and citizen empowerment, present the possibility to deepen democracy by introducing ‘lay’ perspectives into policy arenas where traditionally they has been limited involvement.


This module provides a detailed analysis of political reform initiatives in Ireland, and other advanced industrialised countries such as the United Kingdom, the US and Canada. This is achieved by examining political and institutional reform responses, and in doing so, presents a deeper discernment about participative democracy, the public policy process and the power of the media. Students will assume intellectual responsibility in the definition of problems, the formulation of arguments and the identification of sources.


The underlying principles to this course are to:

1. understand the theoretical transformation of the concepts of citizenship and democracy
2. examine how to practically engage ‘the public’ in policy formulation through (a) deliberative democracy– the concept that political systems work best when informed citizens and public officials deliberate to identify and promote the common good; (b) other participatory decision making processes.


The purposes of this practically orientated module are to:

• outline the contemporary state of citizen politics in advanced industrial democracies in terms of mass attitudes and behaviours, and profile the key theoretical and empirical literature relevant to explaining and understanding these phenomena
• explore comparative contemporary debate about the challenges of participative democracy and active citizenship
• evaluate the diverse approaches undertaken by the media in managing perceptions and the effects of reporting on policy.
• assess the importance of a range of informal actors, media and new communication technologies in promoting established and newer non-conventional forms of citizen engagement.
• examine different perspectives on the public policy cycle. In doing so, acquire a thorough knowledge of the policymaking environment and process from a comparative standpoint on how different kinds of policymaking machinery will shape different outcomes.
• analyse the dynamics of regulatory governance, the responses to crises and the institutional architecture of different regulatory frameworks.


This class is a seminar, which means that participation counts (particularly given the ethos of the subject under discussion). Readings will be given in week one and students should come to class prepared to discuss these (this means having read and thought about the readings).


Guest lecturers (from academia, policy practitioners and the media) will be announced and will participate in the seminars.


There will be a practical expression of one aspect of this course in the Hilary Term. There is no obligation to participate but students are invited to observe if they so wish. Details will be announced at the start of the Hilary Term.


Key readings

Full course outline and specific readings for each topic will be given in course handout at first lecture.

Dalton, Russell, The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation is Reshaping American Politics, (Congressional Quarterly Press, 2008)


Dalton, R.J., Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies , (CQ Press, USA, 2005)


Fishkin, James S., When the People Speak: Deliberative Democracy and Public Consultation (Oxford University Press, 2009)


LeDuc, Lawrence et al, Comparing Democracies 3, (London: Sage, 2010)


Reynolds, Andrew, Designing Democracy in a Dangerous World, (Oxford University Press, 2010)


Warren, Mark and Hilary Pearse (eds), Designing Deliberative Democracy, (Cambridge, 2008)



2 essays, each worth 20%
1 x 3 hour exam (60%)



1. Rethinking Democracy
• What socio-economic variables have influenced the transformation of western societies since WWII?
• Have these factors undermined the traditional concept of democracy or is the concept of democracy itself becoming democratized?
2. Rethinking Citizenship
• How do social and cultural forces play a role in shaping citizen politics?
• What are the socio-cultural factors which are a source of the changing patterns of political participation?
3. Case-study Focus: Citizenship in historical perspective – America
• How has the definition of citizenship changed?
• Has it changed?
4. Citizen’s Assemblies
• What are Citizen’s Assemblies?
• What advantages does it have over other forms of decision-making?
• How can the challenges of active citizenship be overcome?
• Will greater participation and access to information lead to superior outcomes?
• Are there circumstances in which informing citizens can lead to negative outcomes? If so, when?
5. Case-study Focus: Shortcomings and virtues of recent Citizen’s Assemblies
• British Columbia, Canada 2004;
• Australia 2009;
• US 2009;
• UK 2009
6. Political participation, Political Engagement, Citizenship and Trust
• What is social capital?
• What are the cross-national differences and similarities in public opinion, voting behaviour, and other types of participation?
• Why do individuals participate in politics?
7. The Nature of Public Opinion, the Media and Political Elites
• What factors are sources of political change?
• How influential is perception?
• How effective are the media in Ireland, the UK, US and Canada in influencing public opinion?
8. The public policy cycle and agenda setting
• How do issues become issues? problem identification, why some issues belong on the public agenda
• How “agenda setting” occurs


9. Policy Implementation
• How the nature of the problem has implications for effective policy implementation
• What is ‘perfect’ implementation’ and’ implementation deficits’
• The different approaches – ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ models of policy implementation
10 Collective decision making?
• What is collective decision making?
• E-Democracy vs. Open Democracy

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