ISSSV4385 – How Democracies Emerge and Survive

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

This course introduces the academic study of how democracies emerge, sustain, and break down. Following the optimism of the so-called third wave in the 1980s and 1990s, democracy is currently in a wave of global recession. While democracies used to break down in easily identifiable ways - for instance through military coups - current democratic backsliding tends to happen gradually and under legal disguise. Even in long-standing democracies such as the United States and France, nativist and populist political leaders question liberal, democratic arrangements that have long been taken for granted.

Beyond these empirical tendencies, there are also fears that democracy is losing some of its appeal as the ideal mode of governance.  Authoritarian leaders frequently point to the economic successes of such non-democratic regimes such as China and Singapore, and the poverty levels in democracies such as India and Bangladesh to argue that citizens' prosperity and well-being will be best ensured from strong leaders with long-term visions rather than political participation.

This course combines academic insights on democratic development with a deep and practical understanding of current democratic challenges around the world. It offers guest lectures from world-leading academic experts and civil society activists and draws on a diverse set of reading material.

Learning outcome

Upon completion of the course, the students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the evolution and deterioration of democracies. They will be better placed to analyze the trajectories and challenges of democratization, and how these can be addressed. Students will also improve their ability to effectively articulate complex ideas and to collaborate with students from other backgrounds.


If you would like to take this course, you must apply directly to the International Summer School

Only students admitted to the course may take part in instruction.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

A completed Bachelor’s degree or a period of study comparable with a Norwegian Bachelor's degree from a recognized institution. Minimum academic requirements.

Recommended previous knowledge

The course is open to students from a broad range of disciplines, though it relies most strongly on the frameworks of  the social sciences (e.g. political science, international relations, economics, sociology, social anthropology, psychology). Students with a degree outside of the social sciences are also encouraged to apply, but should explain how their disciplinary background may add to class discussions.

This course relies on active participation from students. All applicants are invited to state in their application letter (Statement of purpose) how their academic, professional, and personal experience will enable them to contribute to class discussions, and how they hope the course will help them for their professional development.


The course consists of approx. 30 lectures and teaching sessions. Class timings will be 2 hours per day Monday-Friday, from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. CEST, during six weeks (times subject to variation during the semester, dependent on class activity). The teaching format will be a combination of online (synchronous) and recorded lectures, in addition to other activities such as discussions, seminars, group exercises, student presentations, self-study and individual follow up. Lectures held in realtime will also be recorded and made available online to the extent possible.

Active participation throughout the course is expected of all participants, and attendance during realtime lectures, seminars and discussions is required. The course is labor intensive, and is considered as a full time work load. The parts of the course based on recorded materials can be accessed by the students at any time.

For remote learning, the University of Oslo uses secure Zoom video conferencing, and Canvas, the learning management system at UiO. Access to these platforms is provided by UiO to students when they have a UiO username and password.


The course includes oral group presentations (counting 20% of the final grade) and a final take-home exam (counting 80% of the final grade).

You can check your results and order transcripts in Studentweb three weeks after the exam.

Digital examination

The written examination is conducted in the digital examination system Inspera. You will need to familiarize yourself with the digital examination arrangements in Inspera.

Read more about written examinations using Inspera.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

A student can take the class and sit for this exam up to 3 times. If a student wishes to withdraw from the exam, s/he must submit the Course Change Request Form to the ISS Reception before the exam. Failure to do so will be counted as one of the three opportunities to sit for the exam, which is the general rule at UiO.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Every summer


Every summer

Teaching language