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Constructivism and the Logic of Political Representation

  • THOMAS FOSSEN (a1)

Abstract

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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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-ncsa/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the same Creative Commons licence is included and the original work is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.

Corresponding author

*Thomas Fossen, Assistant Professor of Political Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy, Leiden University, P.O. Box 9515 2300 RA Leiden, t.fossen@phil.leidenuniv.nl.

Footnotes

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For feedback, discussion, and inspiration for this paper, thanks to Dario Castiglione, Frank Chouraqui, Victor Gijsbers, Tim Heysse, Frederike Kaldewaij, Hans Lindahl, Mihaela Mihai, Laura Montanaro, Alessandro Mulieri, Sofia Näsström, Johan Olsthoorn, Andrew Schaap, Mathias Thaler, an audience at the University of Exeter, and several anonymous referees.

Footnotes

References

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