Political Change: Political Parties and Party Systems (L2034)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

This module seeks to identify the major processes of political change in a given context, and to examine the factors driving such processes. The module will analyse empirically the forms that change has taken in practice and will test different theories of change.

Whatever their effect on public policy, and notwithstanding the challenges they face, parties are still one of the main representative linkages between citizens and the state in liberal democracies. As such, they continue to attract as much attention from those interested in comparative politics as they do in the media.

Academics continue to cite American political scientist EE Schattsneider to the effect that 'modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of political parties', an assertion he made over half a century ago. But is it still true? To support or contest it we need to start with a few questions. Where did parties  – and party systems – come from? Are they all the same underneath or do they differ systematically? What are they supposed to do and what do they actually do? How have they changed and where are they going? Are they fulfilling the political functions that democracy requires of them, and if not, can they be complemented by other forms of democratic participation?

Therefore the module offers you an understanding of the development of political parties and party systems, and their importance in contemporary advanced industrial democracies. Although the primary empirical focus is on the development of parties and party systems in Western Europe, the module is designed primarily as a tool rather than a survey, in order to allow you to use theoretical and analytical models to study parties and party systems in a wide range of countries.


10%: Practical (Workshop)
90%: Seminar


30%: Coursework (Essay)
70%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 30 hours of contact time and about 270 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: