Creating Political Presence The New Politics of Democratic Representation
edited by Dario Castiglione and Johannes Pollak
University of Chicago Press, 2018
Cloth: 978-0-226-58836-0 | Paper: 978-0-226-58853-7 | Electronic: 978-0-226-58867-4
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.001.0001


For at least two centuries, democratic representation has been at the center of debate. Should elected representatives express the views of the majority, or do they have the discretion to interpret their constituents’ interests? How can representatives balance the desires of their parties and their electors? What should be done to strengthen the representation of groups that have been excluded from the political system? Representative democracy itself remains frequently contested, regarded as incapable of reflecting the will of the masses, or inadequate for today’s global governance. Recently, however, this view of democratic representation has been under attack for its failure to capture the performative and constructive elements of the process of representation, and a new literature more attentive to these aspects of the relationship between representatives and the represented has arisen.

In Creating Political Presence, a diverse and international group of scholars explores the implications of such a turn. Two broad, overlapping perspectives emerge. In the first section, the contributions investigate how political representation relates to empowerment, either facilitating or interfering with the capacity of citizens to develop autonomous judgment in collective decision making. Contributions in the second section look at representation from the perspective of inclusion, focusing on how representative relationships and claims articulate the demands of those who are excluded or have no voice. The final section examines political representation from a more systemic perspective, exploring its broader environmental conditions and the way it acquires democratic legitimacy.


Dario Castiglione is the Director of the Centre for Political Thought at the University of Exeter and coeditor of Institutional Diversity in Self-Governing Societies. Johannes Pollak is the rector and professor of political science at Webster Vienna Private University and a senior researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna.


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0001
[presence/absence;personification;representation as non-identity]
This chapter aims to explore the vexed problem of the core meaning of representation, which is often identified with the paradox or dialectic of presence and absence. It examines this problem by discussing the ways in which authors such as Hannah Pitkin and Carl Schmitt, and their critics, have formulated the presence/absence paradox. Its focus, however, is neither linguistic nor conceptual. It does not aim to solve the puzzle, but to show its political significance. The chapter identifies several logics of “presence”, which give different accounts of political subjectivity and of the principles and institutions involved in representation. In essence, this is a problem for political theory, institutional design, and political practice, rather than one of philosophical and conceptual clarification. Outlining different ways in which political representation offers a space for the citizens to have a voice and somepresence in the process of governance moves us a step forward towards a theory of democratic representation. In this sense, political representation needs to be more than a process of reflection, but also one of creation of democratic subjectivity. Creating political presence remains therefore a normative aspiration for representative democracy as a political regime.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0002
[political representation;representative democracy;citizenship]
Within standard democratic theory, representation is primarily about scaling democracy onto mass societies. In Hanna Pitkin’s well-known formulation, representation overcomes constraints of scale byre-presenting: making present what is absent. While this formulation is not wrong, it does have a cost. Because it frames citizens as absent, it deflects our focus away from the question of what citizens are doing when they assess representative claims, authorize representatives to stand, speak, or act for them, and hold representatives accountable. Judgmentsto be representedcan develop democratic citizenship by (1) inducing capacities for autonomous judgment; (2) framing individuals in their roles and capacities as members of collectivities; (3) enabling moral judgment by inducing individuals to view the world from the perspective of others; and (4) making discursive accountability possible. Along with other normative criteria, the institutions and practices of representative democracy can be judged as better or worse according to the ways they enable these capacities of democratic citizenship.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0003
[theories of representation;will;judgment;internet]
The generally suspicious way in which democratic citizens tend to look at representation derives from the fact that, no matter how political representation is structured, it can greatly affect their lives. This is due to the fact that the decisions that result from the process of representation are engrafted in state institutions. Yet in politics, representation is not simply what representation does. The phenomenology of representation as the making of claims that represents what we are and want is an important part, although only one part, of the representative game. The other part is the process of decision-making that our electoral choices initiate.This chaptershows how the dual-face of representation displays different conceptions of democracy, which can be grouped in two broad procedural families, one more traditional and minimalist, and the other more deliberative. The parallel analysis of these two families introduces the chapter’s main argument: privileging representation as a practice of informal participation (claim-making in all its complexity) prefigures a kind of democratic citizenship that, thanks also to the internet, breaks down the diarchy of claim-making and decision-making, magnifying the mistaken belief that only the former consists of a more genuine, powerful and richer form of participation.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0004
[political parties;conflict handling;civilizing conflicts]
Political scientists have long been fascinated with political parties, but it is only recently that political theorists have started taking note of them and of the role that partisanship plays within the democratic process. As Nancy Rosenblum notes, one of the main rationales for political parties is tohandle and civilize conflicts. How this happens is still understudied. This chapter provides an analytical framework for such a discussion.In doing this, the chapter makes use of Albert Hirschman’s famous categories of “exit, voice, and loyalty,” integrating them with Stein Rokkan’s “entry." It deploys such categories to explain the mechanisms that parties use for handling conflicts while performing their representative role.Different mechanisms apply to the way in which parties operate either in their representative functions (being responsive and shaping the identity of their members/voters), or in the way they handle societal conflicts. It is possible that political parties perform their civilizing and conflict handling role at the cost of fully expressing their voters’ political identity and democratic voice; but such civilizing function remains essential in order to provide a framework for democratic politics.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0005
Populism establishes a particular relationship between leaders and followers, twisting democratic representation. This chapter analysesthe kind of link that populist rhetoric tries to establish between the leader and the people and suggests that this is the key element for understanding the way in which populist discourse challenges democratic representation.Democratic representation generates several tensions between the representatives and the represented. One such tension is between processes of authorization and accountability within democratic representation; a second one is between the vertical nature of the relationship characterizing leadership, and the horizontal character of the principle of democratic equality.Populist rhetoric emphasizes both horizontal equality amongst the people, whose presence they constantly evoke in their politics, and the more vertical and hierarchical relationship between the leader and the masses, whose characteristics and passions are often embodied and symbolically represented in theleader. The chapterdiscusseshow populist leaders deal with such tensionsand the way in which they twist representation. In particular,the identitarian link that populism establishes between the leader and his/her followers has a worrying anti-democratic character, it threatens democracy’s central features of transparency and control, thus disempowering citizens.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0006
[inclusion;Bourdieu;1848 Revolution]
The standard opposition between political representation and participation is based on an exclusionary conception of representation, in which representatives monopolize power. But representation can also be inclusive when it enables the represented to become present and act directly on the political stage. This chapter discusses different forms of inclusive representation. First, inclusion by representation may happen through the partisan politicization of citizens, when they observe, judge and acquire the language of professional politicians. Citizens can also become politicized through autonomous representative devices outside the institutions of representative government. Taking social domination into consideration, inclusive representation may concern dominated social groups. As they are specifically excluded by the institutions of representative government, dominated groups may require distinctive means of representation, inside or outside the institutionalized political field. However, collective inclusive representation may also result in exclusion, when representatives speak for the groups without the latter’s members being able directly to enter the political stage. This risk is especially high when dominated social groups are not fully recognized as such and have to rely on representation for acquiring collective subjectivity. In such cases, only direct participation of the represented, sometimes against their representatives, is a criterion of inclusive representation.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0007
[constructivist turn;Laclau and Mouffe;political practice]
This chapter examines the contribution of radicaldemocratic theory to what Nadia Urbinati has called the “democratic rediscovery of representation.” It focuses on constructivist approaches within this broader scholarship. Itcharacterizes the “constructivist turn” as implying a performative, rather than a merely reflective and vicarious understanding of the act of representing in politics. It insists that the “rediscovery” of representation as contributing to the formation of the political subjectivity of the represented should not simply be seen as a way of integrating representative government within consent-driven processes of opinion formation and democratic deliberation, but as part of the more agonistic battle for political hegemony. The chaptertraces the lineageof the “constructivist turn” to Laclau’s and Mouffe’s (1985)Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. It argues that their contribution to the rediscovery of representation is particularly significant for those who want to exploit the potential of new theorizations of representation to give voice to the excluded because their radical pluralism shifts the normative orientation of the field.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0008
[self-appointed representatives;non-electoral accountability;ethics of representation]
Non-electoral theories of democratic representation, though necessary to describe our political landscape, might enable malicious or opportunistic political actors to claim legitimacy. Without the normative goods and obligations that we usually associate with democratic representation derived from free and fair elections, including accountability and responsiveness to a political constituency, non-elected representation has mixed potential. On the one hand, self-appointed representativeshave the potential to fulfill an important democratic function: to speak for those who are affected by particular decisions, but for various reasons are entirely excluded from the political process that influence such decisions, while at the same time they lack any opportunity for their voice to be heard. In this way, theycan provide representation for others who need it and in forms that can effective. On the other hand, self-appointed representatives lack the clear characteristics one normally associates with democratic representation, being neither appointed nor accountable to those who they represent. This chapter discusses its democratic potential and its potential dangers, a distinction that turns not only on the representative-constituent relationship itself but also on the effects of that relationship on others.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0009
[presentism;future-regarding;deliberative design]
While the idea ofrepresenting future generations arises frequently in discussions of sustainable development, neither standard models nor constructivist accounts of representation apply convincingly to situations in which constituents do not yet exist.This is mainly due to the fact that it is difficult to imagine how future generations can hold their“present” representatives to account.Democratic concern for future generations is better regarded as a matter of deliberative institutional design. Jury-like forums could be integrated into a deliberative system as testing-grounds for future-regarding principles, as sustainability monitors of policy implementation, and as accountability agents in relation to “presentist” institutions.Such deliberative institutions and processes, however, should not just be consultative but carry real powers within the legislative process.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0010
[synecdochical representation;metaphorical representation;sovereignty]
This chapter engages in an “archaeology” of political representation by opposing a medieval conception to its modern variant. The medieval conception has a “synecdochical” character, in the sense that it works in a way in which the part represents the whole (pars pro toto). Throughout modernity, instead, representation has taken a more “metaphorical” sense, where symbols tend to represent by referring to the essence of a phenomenon rather than to a part of it. The passage from “synecdochical” to “metaphorical” conceptions of political representation is mainly due to the emergence in modern times of the notion of sovereignty, which is also crucial for modern conception of democracy. The chapter argues that sovereignty weakens rather than strengthens political representation.Indeed,sovereignty is both the greatest threat to democracy and the decisive condition of its possibility. In representative democracy, political representation will be cut down to a size agreeable to sovereignty. Keeping a representative democracy in a relatively good shape is, therefore, much like walking a tightrope.This disappointing truth only becomes clear with the end of political ideology, something that sheds some new light on contemporary populism.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0011
[externalities;European Union;two-level representation]
How well individuals are represented in policies and laws that affect their lives has become a two-level problem. It requires an evaluation both of how well citizens are represented within democratic states and how well they are represented beyond the state. This chapter identifies a core structural difficulty. Under conditions of interdependence, even the ability of publics to secure rights and core values of justice, freedom and democracy within states depends on how well those publics are represented in the management of externalities between states. By way of illustration, the European Union has experimented with multiple forms of representation beyond the state: supranational, intergovernmental, transnational and interparliamentary. Yet each of those responses has different strengths and weaknesses in representing publics in choices over the management of externalities between the Union’s participating democracies.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0012
[liminality;liminal representation;democratic representation]
Representation’s liminal qualities make it difficult to sustain a number of common distinctions that have been central to the study of the concept. After elaborating on the idea of liminality and defending an understanding of representation as practice, the chapter focuses critically on four distinctions: elective and nonelective; formal and informal; institutional and noninstitutional; descriptive and normative. Such distinctions are often deployed to map conceptually the field of political representation, drawing out the latter’stransitional or intermediate character. In the chapter, it is argued that we can productively embrace representation’s liminality, developing fruitful analyses which track its changeable character.Finally, the chapter shows how these critiques can contribute to an encompassing distinction betweenrepresentative democracyanddemocratic representation, arguing that the former – often the sole focus of debates on representation – is but one (crucial) part of the latter.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226588674.003.0013
[recursive representation;administrative representation;societal representation]
This chapter adds a new ideal, recursive representation, to the existing set of ideals toward which representative practice should aim.In recursive representation, constituents and representatives engage in iterative, on-going, and mutually responsive communication, ideally producing learning on both sides. Current empirical and normative analyses of representation rarely focus on the communicative relations between constituent and representative. When they do, they usually describe the applicable ideal as “two-way” communication. Yet “two-way” communication usually involves only the constituent making demands (and sometimes providing information) and the representative either meeting those demands or explaining why they cannot be met.Recursive representation, by contrast, is an aspirational ideal that seeks to make constituents and representatives more like partners in the lawmaking process.This aspiration, now made more thinkable by new methods of communication, can apply not only in the legislative realm but also in the administrative and societal realms.