Constructivism and the Logic of Political Representation

American Political Science Review 113 (3):824-837 (2019)
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There are at least two politically salient senses of “representation”—acting-for-others and portraying-something-as-something. The difference is not just semantic but also logical: relations of representative agency are dyadic (x represents y), while portrayals are triadic (x represents y as z). I exploit this insight to disambiguate constructivism and to improve our theoretical vocabulary for analyzing political representation. I amend Saward’s claims-based approach on three points, introducing the “characterization” to correctly identify the elements of representational claims; explaining the “referent” in pragmatic, not metaphysical terms; and differentiating multiple forms of representational activity. This enables me to clarify how the represented can be both prior to representation and constituted by it, and to recover Pitkin’s idea that representatives ought to be “responsive” to the represented. These points are pertinent to debates about the role of representatives, the nature of representative democracy, and the dynamics of revolutionary movements.



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Thomas Fossen
Leiden University

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