Skip to main content


Geographies of Democracy

Module titleGeographies of Democracy
Module codeGEO3457
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Katie Orchel ()

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module explores the geographies of democracy and related debates about the democracy of knowledge production. The module starts by looking at what we mean by democracy (demos-kratos/people-power), the history of the idea and related practices, the different forms of democracy (direct/representative and newer debates about deliberative democracy and co-production), the role of political parties and importantly, the importance of geography to these developments. The module will explicate the wider connections to political philosophy (looking at liberalism and communitarianism) with particular focus on British political historical-geography. In the latter parts of the module the focus will turn to contemporary challenges including the democratic deficit, rebuilding parties, populism, debates about active citizenship and community organising. The module will end by exploring the ways in which the production of academic knowledge has been subject to currents for democratic change in relation to subject matter, research methods, teaching methods and public engagement.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module draws on a range of literatures and examples in order to understand what we mean by democracy, why it matters and how it changes over time and space. While it provides an introduction to political history and theory, its prime focus is on the intersection of geography with democracy. It highlights the way in which political constituencies depend on ideas about community and citizenship; the way in which political parties have developed to represent particular interests and the importance of geo-demography in explaining their success; the way that the internal division of political power across space (the geo-constitution) determines the jurisdiction and autonomy of local government; the way that publics form to challenge decision-making and the role of space in that process; and the extent to which democracy depends on a range of spaces and practices beyond the obviously political (the social capital debate). The module will provide a history of the political geography of Britain as a way to illustrate these issues but it will also draw on a range of international examples to illustrate particular points in more depth. The module aims to provide you with an understanding of theory as well as more practically-oriented analysis of some of the contemporary challenges facing democracy such as globalisation, international migration and the question of citizenship; institutional decay and the need to renew government, political parties and mechanisms for public engagement; new technology and its implications for democratic accountability, decision-making and power; reforms to state-citizen relationships and moves towards co-production.

The module ends by looking at the implications of debates about democracy for the process of knowledge production. Drawing on examples from the production of geographical knowledge, the module will explore the development of new research methods that seek to work in partnership with a variety of communities to democratise knowledge. This raises important, topical, questions for debates about expertise, professionalism and citizen science.

The module assessment, to write a manifesto, encourages you to think of yourself as a citizen, ready to play a role in your political communities. It provides an opportunity to think creatively about ideas for reform, and how to win over audiences to succeed. Unlike forms of academic writing, political writing requires passion and emotional connection, and we will explore this in more depth in two writing workshops. You will be encouraged to think about aspects of democracy that matter to you, and/or that require reform, and to construct an argument that resonates with your readers.

You will develop the skills to:

  • Analyse the political system in the UK, the role of different political institutions and representatives, and the scope for citizen voice in decision-making.
  • Mobilise emotion in seeking to create political change in the world.
  • Think creatively about democracy in a range of spaces that include the workplace, community group and school.
  • Treasure and defend the strengths of democracy while understanding their potential role in future reform.
  • Reflect on the way that democracy shapes your own life and possible futures.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe in detail the history of the idea of democracy and its institutionalisation across time and space
  • 2. Discuss the importance of different approaches to democracy including direct democracy and representative democracy, and the implications of liberalism, communitarianism and deliberation
  • 3. Elucidate the importance of citizenship and its implications for political life and organisation, past and present
  • 4. Articulate the key challenges facing democracy today and to be able to identify potential solutions
  • 5. Identify the intersection of debates about democracy with the process of knowledge production

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of human geography
  • 7. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 8. Explain why geography makes a difference to ideas and practices that are more often associated with the discipline of political science
  • 9. Discuss the politics of epistemology, in geography, but with implications for understanding the production of knowledge more generally

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 11. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 12. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 13. Appreciate what it means to be a citizen and the wider implications this has for thought and action

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction
  • The geography of democracy: Athens and beyond
  • The historical geography of democracy in Britain
  • Representation: people, place and parties
  • Citizenship
  • The creation of publics and the role of space
  • Democratic decay and the task of renewal
  • The democracy of knowledge production
  • Conclusion

There will be two workshops to prepare and provide feedback for coursework ideas. These will look at emotion in politics and the importance of narrative. You will be able to test out ideas for your manifestos.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching16Lectures- delivery of core material
Scheduled Learning and Teaching4Seminars - focused on key readings.
Scheduled Learning and Teaching3Workshops (2 x 1.5 hours)
Guided independent study127Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Workshop for you to present ideas for coursework assessment and get feedback about your ideas2 sessions, each for 1.5 hoursAllOral staff and peer feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Coursework essay 601500 words1-12Written
Manifesto401500 words1-13Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Coursework essay Coursework essay 1-12August assessment period
ManifestoManifesto1-13August assessment period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to resubmit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Barnett, C. and Low, M. (2004) (eds) Spaces of democracy: Geographical perspectives on citizenship, participation and representation. London: Sage.
  • Dahl, R.A. (1998) On democracy. Yale University Press.
  • Flinders, M. (2012) Defending politics: Why democracy matters in the twenty-first century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Fung, A. (2006) Empowered participation: Reinventing urban democracy. Princeton University Press.
  • Held, D. (2006) Models of democracy (third edition). Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Putnam, R. (2001) Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. Simon and Shuster.
  • Stoker, G. (2006) Why politics matters: Making democracy work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Wills, J. (2016) Locating localism: Statecraft, citizenship and democracy. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Whiteley, P. (2012) Political participation in Britain: The decline and revival of civic culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Geography, democracy, citizenship, the politics of epistemology, participation, representation, political parties, social movements, liberalism, communitarianism, spaces of democracy, the geo-constitution

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date