The Idea of Democracy: History, Theories and Practice

Home/ The Idea of Democracy: History, Theories and Practice
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreNA4

Semester and Year offered: II Semester (Winter 2019)

Course coordinator: Dr. Anushka Singh

Email of course coordinator: anushka[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisite: None

Aim:The course combines the sub-disciplines of political theory, global politics as well as Indian political process to offer a comprehensive insight into the concept of democracy and its practice. From the Athenian model of direct democracy in its most exclusivist form to the liberal democratic, representative model realized in from of the modern nation-state, democracy has both theoretically and in practice exhibited variation. From the bourgeoisie movement for the right to representation in England, struggle for equality and liberty in France, early resistance against colonialism in America to being introduced as an aspirational idea to the colonialized world in Asia, Africa and Latin America, democracy has also witnessed many historical journeys. This course combines a focused study on the above in form of distinct modules focusing on historical evolution, theoretical models, conceptual forms and working of democratic regimes. India serves as a case study in the course for students to understand the practice of democracy, its limitations and challenges. Common social science thinking hails democracy as the most desirable form of political system- a system which claims to guarantee and protect the rights of its citizens. A discipline specific study of democracy as a political concept, however, offers defenses as well as critique to the idea of democracy and its practice around the world. Despite being conceptualized, critiqued and defended time and again, democracy still emerges as a universal value. Against this background this course undertakes an evaluative study of the idea of democracy locating it in its historical origins, developments and realizations in form of actually existing democratic states which are also facing challenges on account of pervasive violation and their incapacity to live up to their normative claims. The course seeks to introduce students to the concept and it’s working to make them understand and probe its universal charm and desirability as well as critically engage with the same.

Course Outcomes:

On the successful completion of the course students would be able to

  1. Grasp the evolution of democracy as a concept and demonstrate knowledge of the different trajectories that democracy has followed in different parts of world
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of the distinguishing features of a democratic political system, specifically knowledge of the nature of Indian democracy
  3. Demonstrate awareness of combining different genres of Social Sciences to the study of a concept such as Comparative Politics, History, Western Philosophy, etc.


Brief Description of Modules:

  • This course will traverse the theoretical models of democracy as well as the workings of the democratic regimes. In doing so, it would historically unravel the birth and the evolution of democracy as an idea as well as a political regime, globally and in a comparative frame. Indian democracy is introduced in the course in the last module as a specific illustration of a democratic regime to familiarize the students with the idea of democracy they experience mundanely but hardly theorize.


Module 1 (2 weeks)

  • Points of emphasis: Birth of an idea, its normative frame, Classical model, early critics and gradual development in the West
  • This module traces the history of the idea of democracy as it evolved first in Greece and later in the rest of the Western World. The module specifically focusses on what it meant to be citizens of a democratic polity and through that lens explores the normative concept of democracy, the promises it made and the expectations it carried. It also discusses the early skepticism related to democratic regimes, the historical struggles such regimes witnessed and endured to become the hegemonic political system.


Reading list:

  • A. Arblaster, 1987, Part I- History, in Democracy (3rd Edition, 2002). Buckingham: Open University Press, pp. 15-37.
  • A. Roy, 2008, ‘Citizenship’, in Bhargava, R. and Acharya, A. (eds.) Political Theory: An Introduction. New Delhi: Pearson Longman, pp. 130-146.
  • A. Sen, 1999, Democracy as a Universal Value, Journal of Democracy, 10(3), pp. 3-17.
  • Th. Christiano, 2008, ‘Democracy’, in Mckinnon, C. (ed.) Issues in Political Theory, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 80-96.
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, 2003 Democracy in America, in R. Dalh et al The Democracy Sourcebook, MIT Press, pp. 455- 458.


Additional reading:

  • J. Srinivasan, 2008, ‘Democracy’, in Bhargava, R. and Acharya, A. (eds.) Political Theory: An Introduction. New Delhi: Pearson Longman, pp. 106-128.
  • M. E. Warren, 2006, Democracy and the State, in J. S. Dryzek et al (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory, Oxford University Press, pp. 382-399.


Module 2 (3 weeks)

  • Points of emphasis: Theoretical models: Protective, Developmental, Liberal, Pluralist, Elitist, Marxist conception of direct democracy
  • The second module contests the idea of democracy being a monolith and explicates the same through a critical review of theoretical variants of the concept. The intent is also to focus on the distinctiveness of each model, the similarities between them and their historical approximation. The classificatory labels will help students compare and contrast and eventually relate those to the existing system of democracy around them and critically evaluate the same.


Reading list:

  • A. Heywood, 1997, Democracy, in Politics (4th edition, 2013), Macmillan Press, pp. 89-107.
  • D. Held, 1987, Classic Models, in Models of Democracy, Polity Press, 1987, pp. 36- 139.
  • L. Diamond, 2003, Defining and Developing Democracy, in R. Dahlet alThe Democracy Sourcebook, MIT Press, pp. 29-39.
  • Mehmet Odekon, 2015, Social Democracy, in The Sage Encyclopedia of World Poverty, Sage.


Additional reading:

  • C. B. Macpherson, 1977, Models and Precursors, in The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, OUP, pp. 1-22.


Module 3 (2 weeks)

Points of emphasis: The great debates: procedures, deliberations, participation, and efficiency

This module takes the second module forward by streamlining the theoretical discussion on models of democracy along the major debates. The first and the predominant debate taken up in the module is between the procedural aspect of democracy and its deliberative possibility and the pros and cons of both sides. Other questions relate to the desirability and limit of participation in democracy including the feminist alternative of participatory democracy, the ‘problem’ of participation and inclusion posed by the critics who argue that democracy leads to inefficiency particularly economic.

Reading list:

A. Gutmann and D. Thompson, 2003, Democracy and Disagreement, in R. Dahl et al The Democracy Sourcebook, MIT Press, pp. 18-24.

  • A. Przeworski, 2003, Minimalist Conception of Democracy: A Defense, in R. Dahl et al The Democracy Sourcebook, MIT Press, pp. 12-17.
  • C. Pateman, 2003, Participation and Democratic Theory, in R. Dahl et al The Democracy Sourcebook, MIT Press, pp. 40-47.
  • D. Owen, 2003, ‘Democracy’, in Bellamy, R. and Mason, A. (eds.) Political Concepts, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, pp. 105-117.


Module 4 (2 weeks)

Points of emphasis: Colonialism, democracy and its experiment with the post-colonial world

This module focuses on what is popularly termed as the ‘Third wave’ of democracy ushered in the decolonized world characterizing its global spread. It traces the relationship between colonialism and democracy and the democratic experiment of the post-colonial societies. It discusses the causes of democratization, the imposition from the western nations, its uncritical acceptance by most post-colonial societies and the implications for this part of the world for transitioning to democracy.

Reading list:

  • B. Smith, 2003, Democratization in the Third World, in Understanding Third World Politics: Theories of Political Change and Development, London, Palgrave Macmillan, pp.250-274.
  • J. Chiryankandath, 2008, Colonialism and Post-Colonial Development, in P. Burnell, et al, Politics in the Developing World, New Delhi, OUP, pp. 31-52.
  • K. Newton, and J. Deth, 2010, Democratic Change and Persistence, in Foundations of Comparative Politics: Democracies of the Modern World, Cambridge University Press, pp. 53-67.
  • S. P. Huntington, 2003, Democracy’s Third Wave, in R. Dalhet alThe Democracy Sourcebook, MIT Press, pp. 93-98.


Additional reading:

  • T. Landman, 2003, ‘Transitions to Democracy’, in Issues and Methods of Comparative Methods: An Introduction, London, Routledge, pp. 185-215.


Module 5 (3 weeks)

Points of emphasis: Indian democracy: questions of rights and resistance

The last module uses Indian democracy as a specific case study. It tries to problematize and then encourage students to look for the meaning of democracy through a study of democratic practice. It engages with the questions of caste, labour, gender, etc. to explore the challenges a democratic regime is faced with and how democratic its responses have been.

Reading list:

  • A. Roy, The Women’s Movement, in N. Jayal and P. Mehta (eds.) The Oxford Companion to Politics in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp.409-422
  • A. Teltumbde, 2017, Development of a Few, Misery for the Masses, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 52, Issue No. 36.
  • N. G. Jayal, 1997, The State and Democracy in India or What happened to Welfare, Secularism, and Development, Jayal (ed) Democracy in India, Delhi, Oxford University Press.
  • S. Kaviraj, 2004, The Nature of Indian Democracy, in Veena Das (ed), Oxford Handbook of Indian Sociology, Oxford University Press, pp. 451-470.
  • S. Palshikar, 2017, The Institutional Context, How Democratic Is It? in, Indian Democracy (Oxford India Short Introductions), New Delhi, OUP, pp. 15- 37.
  • S. Palshikar, 2017, Towards Majoritarian Democracy in, Indian Democracy (Oxford India Short Introductions), New Delhi, OUP, pp. 123- 152
  • Y. Yadav, 2000, Understanding the Second Democratic Upsurge’, in F. Frankel, Z. Hasan, and R. Bhargava (eds.) Transforming India: Social and Political Dynamics in Democracy, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 120-145


Assessment details with weightage

  • Class assignment: 20%
  • Mid-term: 30%
  • Class participation: 10 %
  • End-term: 40%