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10 cp from 100-level units in Politics and International Relations

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit provides students with an overview of one of the most hotly debated topics in politics today - populism. A number of the most controversial leaders, parties and movements of recent years - Donald Trump, Hugo Chávez, Pauline Hanson, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Rodrigo Duterte, UKIP, the Five Star Movement, Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party amongst others - have been labelled as 'populist'. But what does populism mean? What unites such political actors of different ideological stripes and regional settings? What drives populist support and demand? And is populism ultimately a threat or corrective to democracy? This unit addresses these questions, and seeks to make sense of the prominence of populism in the contemporary political landscape. The course is organised in three central sections. The first will examine the historical background and theoretical underpinnings of populism, the second will analyse populism in different regional settings across the globe, and the third will explore populism's wider relationship to media, crisis and democracy in the 21st century. Overall, this unit will help students make sense of populism both in theory and practice.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe the nature and significance of populism and how it differs in different regional contexts across the globe (GA5)

LO2 - Critically discuss diverse political and theoretical perspectives on populism, particularly with respect to marginalised, disadvantaged, and vulnerable peoples and communities (GA1)

LO3 - Apply concepts, theories and methods used in the study of political science to the analysis of populism in a way that informs students’ own practices of engaged citizenship (GA4, GA7, GA8, GA9)

LO4 - Demonstrate the capacity to gather, analyse and advocate ethical solutions to political problems through evidence-based argument and evaluation of primary and secondary sources (GA5, GA6)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


  • Theories and definitions of populism
  • Populism throughout history
  • How regional variants of populism differ from one another
  • Issues in operationalising and measuring populism
  • Populism’s relationship to liberal democracy
  • The role of old and new media in populism
  • Supply and demand side explanations for populist success and failure

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This 10-credit point unit has been for 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as lectures, tutorials, reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video etc.

This unit employs two formal ways of learning and teaching. Lectures are structured to promote case-based learning, a format that involves collaborative deep learning. Students will explore real world challenges and problems, a process that requires them to demonstrate their investigative, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Case-based learning requires learning specific theories and concepts that will complement the conceptual tools and theoretical knowledge critical to analysing divergent approaches to populism.

Tutorials for this unit provide students opportunities for active learning. Students will engage in activities including reading, writing, interrogating ideas, exploring case studies, doing role plays, debating, and giving presentations. These activities, as well as promoting analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of lecture content, are designed to build skills appropriate to the second-year study in Politics and International Relations.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment tasks for this unit have been designed to contribute to high quality student learning by both helping students learn (assessment for learning), and by measuring explicit evidence of their learning (assessment of learning). Assessments have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. These have been designed so that they use a variety of tasks to measure the different learning outcomes at a level suitable for second year study in politics and international relations.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Tutorial assessment task/s


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA5

Mid-semester essay: requires students to apply theories of populism to empirical cases


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9

Final essay/take-home exam: requires students to demonstrate critical thinking skills around populism’s relationship to core features of contemporary democracy


LO3, LO4

GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Aalberg, T., Esser, F., Reinemann, C., Strömbäck, J., & de Vreese, C. H. (Eds.). (2017). Populist Political Communication in Europe. New York: Routledge.

Akkerman, T., de Lange, S. L., & Rooduijn, M. (Eds.). (2016). Radical Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe Into the Mainstream? Abingdon & New York: Routledge.

Albertazzi, D., & McDonnell, D. (2015). Populists in Power. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.

de la Torre, Carlos (ed.) (2015) The Promise and Perils of Populism: Global Perspectives. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

Gerbaudo, P. (2017). The Mask and the Flag: Populism, Citizenism and Global Protest. London: Hurst.

Kenny, Paul D. (2017) Populism and Patronage: Why Populists Win Elections in India, Asia, and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kreisi, H. & Pappas, T. (2015) European Populism in the Shadow of the Great Recession. Colchester: ECPR Press. 

Moffitt, Benjamin (2016) The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

Mouffe, Chantal (2018) In Defense of Left Populism. London: Verso.

Mudde, Cas (2007) Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mudde, Cas & Rovira Kaltwasser, Cristobal (2017) Populism : A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Müller, Jan-Werner (2016) What Is Populism? Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Resnick, D. (2014). Urban Poverty and Party Populism in African Democracies. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Rovira Kaltwasser, Cristobal; Taggart. Paul; Ochoa Espejo, Paulina & Ostiguy, Pierre (2017) The Oxford Handbook of Populism (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

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