Limits of Descriptive Representation

Having spent quite a bit on trying to understand political representation, I know how easy it is to forget the wider context. Here I want to highlight just two things.

First, even if the political representation of different groups is a good thing, we mustn’t forget that most political systems do not revolve around ethnic difference or gender, but about economic growth, the availability of jobs, or security and stability more widely.

Second, there’s a paper Robert Goodin that neatly outlines the limits of descriptive representation in representing diversity — whilst maintaining legislatures where deliberation and debate remains possible. While he may not account enough for multiple group membership and the fact that not every legislator needs to take part in every debate, Goodin’s argument is a good reminder to keep in mind the bigger picture: why do we care about political representation? After all, with opinion polls we have a good instrument capturing the preferences of the population…

Goodin, Robert E. 2004. “Representing Diversity.” British Journal of Political Science 34 (3): 453–468. doi:10.1017/S0007123404000134.

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