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  • Cited by 8
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - The wider canvas: representation and democracy in state and society


The future of democracy will hinge in part on what practices we think of as representative, and how they might be, or become, democratic. Claims and practices of diverse actors, from NGOs to celebrity activists to spiritual leaders, and new devices of governance such as participatory budgets and citizens' juries, are challenging received ideas of democratic representation. Elected national legislatures remain vital parts of this picture, as the contributions of Wessels and Beetham in this volume (Chapters 4 and 5) make clear. But there is a practical broadening and diversifying of representative claims and practices that has an impact on our very ideas of democratic representation. The core task of this chapter is to scan and interrogate key issues and tensions that extending the idea of representation brings into focus.

The key argument I offer here is built around the following points:

Representative democracy as we know it is (presented as) state-based, or ‘statal’;

But it does not exhaust democratic representation which is found, unevenly, through civil society;

A key factor behind points 1 and 2 is that concepts which dominant approaches to democratic representation tie to the state – not least legitimate authority – are not in fact confined to statal institutions and practices;

The comparatively settled world of representative practices in the state, and the comparatively unsettled world of representative practices in civil society, are linked through various parallels, dependencies, continuities, exchanges and mergings;

Critics and advocates may stipulate that representative democracy is solely concerned with the narrow canvas – statal representative democracy. But material and theoretical developments now push us to recognise that this stipulative choice can only be made from within a wider canvas of practices denoted by the idea of societal democratic representation.

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