Examining global change: from populism, democracy and identity politics, to inequality and poverty

Module details

Offered to 1st years
Tuesdays 16.00-18.00
8 weeks (autumn or spring term)
Non-credit only

How to enrol

Is Democracy in crisis? Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the rise of right-wing authoritarian leaders and populist politics throughout the world has led many people to argue that democracy is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy. How true is this? What are the reasons behind these shifts? And what are the alternatives? You will evaluate some potential challenges to democracy throughout the world, such as poverty and inequality, and consider possible responses. You will explore how to analyse these events and shifts through an intersectional lens, allowing you to examine how and why people vote as they do, and what impacts their decision making.  We will also examine the politics of identity, inclusion and exclusion and how these shape contemporary debates around these issues.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

  • Explore the issues of global politics, populism and inequality.
  • Assess how and why democracy is changing.
  • Examine core current socio-political events and trends in a detailed, structured and multi-disciplinary manner.
  • Critically examine measurement and definitions.
  • Work individually and collaboratively with other students to present ideas and engage with constructive feedback.
  • Debate your views on a range of relevant socio-political topics and events.
  • Prepare written formative recommendations of how you would redesign a democracy based on a country of your choice, building on your own views and interests, and the conceptual frameworks covered in this module.
  • Synthesise core literatures from different disciplines within the social sciences to write an analytical essay.


Indicative core content

This course is designed to present a range of imperial evidence and case studies, different data sources with different narratives and to give you space to form your own ideas and arguments about these current socio-political events. The focus will be on the exploration of different case studies, appropriate theories and evidence, but the classes, debates and discussions will be structured so that all students can present their own interpretation of these events and use the evidence we will explore together as support for their arguments.Flags of the World

  • Is democracy in crisis? Students will examine a range of resources to decide if they think that democracy is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy.
  • Who should rule? Citizens and Governance. Exploring the relationship between citizens, governments and democratic participation using a range of case studies.
  • Populism and Inequality. Examining the rise of populism in different settings and what helps us understand the socio-political shifts we are witnessing. (Students will have the chance to study different socio-cultural contexts and the opportunity to focus individually on a country of their choice to look at these issues in more detail for their summative essay).
  • Nationalism, Identity Politics and Intersectionality. Looking into contemporary identity politics and how this shapes political orientations. An introduction to social identity and intersectionality frameworks will be covered to aid the exploration of core areas of nationalism, citizenship, voting behaviour and belonging.
  • Media, political campaigns and ‘fake news’. Examining the role of different forms of media and the power dynamics behind news, information gathering and sharing and how this impacts voting and elections. 
  • Social science methodology. Validity and methodology in the social sciences; assessing different types of data, triangulation of data and methods and how to apply these critiques when writing an analytical essay.
  • What is best for the future? Alternative forms of governance. exploring empirical and normative alternatives to democracy, assessing their effectiveness AND how they compare to democracy.
  • Essay writing workshop to support students for their summative essay.


  • Essay (80%) 
  • Weekly online quiz (20%)

Key information

  • ECTS value: 0
  • Requirements: You must be prepared to attend all classes and to spend about an hour a week preparing for each session
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 4 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]