The Improper Politics of Representation

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Recent debates about representative democracy pose two key arguments. First, they contend that the represented do not pre-exist their articulation, putting in to question the notion that the represented have pre-constituted interests. Second, they contend that representative claims are wider ranging than is normally assumed. They may ‘…be formal and informal, electoral and non-electoral, national and trans-national and manifest in multiple guises and spaces.’ (Saward 2016: 246) These arguments demand a rethinking of how representative democracy is understood and justified. I contend that the constructivist turn inadequately accounts for the relationship between inequality and representation. Unlike classic critics of representative democracy constructivist theorists fail to think the intrinsic relation between property, the proper and representation. While they maintain an agonistic public sphere at the centre of democratic contestation and opinion formation, they underemphasise the disjuncture between democratic equality and representative politics. In short these attempts to radicalise representative democracy inadequately address the sedimented forms of inequality which structure representation. In section 1 I set out the main tenets of the constructivist turn. In section 2 I set out three objections to this account, recalling without vindicating the Marxist critique of representative democracy. Last, I distinguish democratic politics as improper from representative claim making.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Constructivist Turn in Political Representation
EditorsLisa Disch, Mathijs van de Sande, Nadia Urbinati
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9781474442602
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019


  • Demcoracy
  • Representation
  • Equality
  • Improper

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