Political inequality in democracy

Postgraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

Democracy has long been a subject of study among social scientists, as democratic systems are seen to bring with them a number of advantages, not least an improvement in overall human wellbeing. In order for a regime to be truly democratic, policies should reflect citizen's preferences, and citizens should be considered political equals, i.e., they should have equal chances and opportunities to have a say in the decisions that govern them. In the past half-century, it has become clear that contemporary democracies do not adhere entirely to these requirements. For example, women are still underrepresented in many political areas; poorer citizens tend to be only represented when their preferences align with wealthy citizens; and many urban citizens have felt that they are excluded from politics. This course will deal with exactly that; political inequality and citizen representation in democracy, with a focus on established democracies.

The course will start with a brief overview of how democracy should - normatively - look in an ideal world, and offers a broad overview of some of the findings of political inequality. This inequality may be based on various dimensions, such as gender, income, education, and rurality. We follow up on this overview by exploring the potential sources for unequal representation. We may expect inequality in representation to originate from, for example, the idea that some people tend to be less involved in politics (political participation); the idea that it matters who the legislatures are and that there is a bias in that; the idea that the media reports news in a biased way - or is used in ways that encourage bias; or the idea that people's preferences are simply not equally included in the programs of political parties, causing biases. The main objective of this course is to provide a broad overview of the field of political inequality, while also deepening understanding using state-of-the-art-research.

Learning Outcomes

A student who has completed the course should have the following learning outcomes: 


The student

  • Has general knowledge about the main findings and arguments in the area of political representation and political equality
  • Has in-depth knowledge about the existence of various forms of political inequality
  • Has advanced knowledge of the literature on unequal representation and on a range of potential explanations for such inequality


The student

  • Has the ability to identify and develop a relevant (to the field) research question
  • Has improved their abilities to design and conduct an independent research project in political science
  • Has the ability to deal with complex research articles, and identify their relevance to both society and themes within comparative research
  • Has strengthened their various transferable skills including communication (oral and written), analytical skills, and methodological skills

General competence

The student

  • Has improved their critical thinking and develop skills for an analytical approach in studying and discussingvarious questions in political science
  • Is able to effectively find, process, summarize, compare, and communicate advanced and relevant academic literature on political inequality
  • Is able to develop a research design and plan

ECTS Credits


Level of Study


Semester of Instruction

Required Previous Knowledge
Recommended Previous Knowledge
Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap
Access to the Course

The course is open for students who have been accepted into the Master's program in comparative politics.

Guest students at the master level may be accepted upon application. Applications may be rejected due to capacity.

The maximum number of students in this course is 15 students. The first 15 students to register for the course are admitted.

Teaching and learning methods
Seminars that can include short lectures, individual meetings, group discussions
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
  • Two1-page assignments, that can later be revised and used in the final examination. These assignments will be a) a critical review of an academic article, and b) a literature review related to the topic you choose. More specific guidelines will be provided during the course.
  • 1 (short) presentation
  • The obligatory assignments need to be handed at designated timepoints during the course, and need to be approved before the final exam.

    Forms of Assessment

    A research paper of maximum 5000 words

    Students will be provided a variety of new empirical results on the topic of political inequality, in the form of tables and figures. Students will then choose which results to focus on and write a coherent research paper with a research question, relevant discussion of previous research, presentation and discussion of the selected empirical results, and a conclusion. The aim is to give students a valuable experience in thinking and writing like a researcher, and possibly inspire ideas for their Master's thesis.

    The exam will be given in the language in which the course is taught.

    The exam can be submitted in English, Norwegian, Swedish or Danish.

    Grading Scale
    Grading A-F
    Assessment Semester

    Assessment in teaching semester

    A retake exam for either parts of the exam is arranged for students with valid absence according to § 5-5 of the Study Regulations at UiB. If a retake exam are arranged for students with valid absence, students with the following results can also register:

    • Interruption during the exam
    • Fail/Not passed

     If you qualify for the retake exam and a retake exam is arranged for students with valid absence, you can register yourself in Studentweb after August 1.

    Reading List
    Will be made available before the course begins
    Course Evaluation
    All courses are evaluated according to UiB's system for quality assurance of education
    Programme Committee
    The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses.  
    Course Administrator
    The Department of Comparative Politics at the Faculty of Social Sciences has the administrative responsibility for the course and the study programme.