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Democracy, Sustainability and Citizenship

Module titleDemocracy, Sustainability and Citizenship
Module codeGEOM166
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Professor Jane Wills (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module explores questions of democracy and sustainability. 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 in underpinning these developments. The module will explicate the wider connections to political philosophy (looking at liberalism and communitarianism) and debates about the culture of governance. In the latter parts of the module the focus of lectures will turn to contemporary challenges including the democratic deficit, rebuilding parties, populism, debates about active citizenship and community organising. It 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. Seminars will provide an opportunity to explore the application of these ideas to debates about the politics and practice of sustainability.

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.

A series of seminars will allow you to explore the implications of these ideas for understanding the politics and practice of sustainability. You will then develop these ideas in assessment, writing a report that applies these ideas to practical examples of governance challenges and efforts to engage citizens in behaviour change.

You will develop the skills to:

  • Analyse political systems, understanding the role of different political institutions and representatives, and the scope for citizen voice in decision-making.
  • Think creatively about democracy in a range of spaces that include the workplace, community group and school.
  • Apply ideas about democracy and sustainability in a range of places and contexts.
  • Actively contribute to the content and delivery of the module though the selection of seminar readings and the design of group seminar activities.
  • Develop your own research project and report that considers the intersection of democracy and sustainability.
  • 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
  • 6. Explore the challenges of integrating democracy and sustainability in a range of contexts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

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

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 11. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 12. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 13. Devise and manage your own research report to explore the intersection of democracy and sustainability
  • 14. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 15. 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
  • 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 four student-led seminars that explore these ideas as they apply to the question of sustainability. In addition, there will be two workshops to prepare and provide feedback for coursework work. You will be invited to present your proposed ideas to the class for in-depth discussion prior to beginning the project.

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 Teaching20Lectures (10 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching3Seminars (2 x 1.5 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching3Workshops (2 x 1.5 hours)
Guided independent study124Additional 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
Report 805000 words1-14Written
Presentation205 minutes1-14Oral feedback in the group and written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Report Report 1-14August Assessment Period
PresentationTalking Powerpoint Presentation1-14August 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 50%) you will be required to redo the original assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.


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.
  • Held, D. (2006) Models of democracy (third edition). Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Meadowcroft et al, (2012) (eds) Governance, democracy and sustainable development: Moving beyond the impasse. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Stoker, G. (2006) Why politics matters: Making democracy work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Ward, H. (2016) Democracy in the face of climate change: Exploring the present, 2050, and beyond. Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development,
  • 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

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

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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