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Making Representations: Modes and Strategies of Political Parties

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2008

Michael Saward
Affiliation:
Department of Politics and International Studies, Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK
Corresponding
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Abstract

This article critically addresses the varied ways in which political parties can be said to represent. Three important ideal-typical modes of party representation are outlined: the popular, the statal, and the reflexive. Arguments are offered for countering the common view that, for example, popular modes are the most democratic, and statal modes the least democratic. Statal modes in particular are often taken to be an indicator of a decline in parties’ representative functions; however, shifting modes of party representation often have more to do with strategic choices and contextual pressures than democratic ideals. No one ideal-typical mode is intrinsically more democratic than others. Further, there is evidence that a new mode of party representation, the reflexive, may be emerging; parties may be transforming into something they never were in order to continue to do the things they have always sought to do. Whether democracy is unthinkable save for political parties is no longer the question we need to ask. Rather, we need to ask: what kinds of representative democracy are thinkable? And what forms of party claims, if any, are appropriate to them?

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Academia Europaea 2008

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References

1. One part of the present task is to bring key aspects of democratic theory – and especially reconceptualisations of political representation – to bear on the analysis of political parties. Democratic theorists and students of political parties have all too often operated in mutual isolation, arguably to the detriment of the work of both. For an extended analysis of this mutual disregard, the reasons behind it, and some other ways in which it might be addressed, see van Biezen, I. and Saward, M. (2008) Democratic theorists and party scholars: why they don’t talk to each other, and why they should. Perspectives on Politics, 6(1), 2135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
2.Saward, M. (2008) Authorisation and authenticity: representation and the unelected. The Journal of Political Philosophy, forthcoming.Google Scholar
3.Saward, M. (2006) The representative claim. Contemporary Political Theory, 5, 297318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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5.Mair, P. (2006) Ruling the void? The hollowing of western democracy. New Left Review, 42, 2551, p. 45.Google Scholar
6. See the extensive analysis in Manin, B. (1997) The Principles of Representative Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
7. The word ‘statal’ is unfamiliar to contemporary Anglo-Saxon ears. The OED defines it as ‘Of or pertaining to a State (of the US or other federation), as distinguished from national’. I offer it rather as referring to matters of or pertaining to the state in the Weberian sense of that set of organisations that together claim the monopoly of legitimate force in a given territory. The term is used here rather than ‘state’ simply because it makes this ideal-type a grammatical equivalent of the other two – popular and reflexive.Google Scholar
8.Bartolini, S. and Mair, P. (2001) Challenges to contemporary political parties. In: Diamond, L. and Gunther, R. (eds) Political Parties and Democracy (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press), pp. 327344, p. 336.Google Scholar
9.van Biezen, I. (2003) The place of parties in contemporary democracies. West European Politics, 26, 171184, p. 182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
10.Mair, P. (2006) Ruling the void? The hollowing of western democracy. New Left Review, 42, 2551, p. 45.Google Scholar
11. R. F. Fenno, Jr. (2003) Home Style: House Members in Their Districts (New York: Longman). E. Goffman (1990) [1959] The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (London: Penguin).Google Scholar
12. See the discussion in Katz, R. S. and Mair, P. (1995) Changing models of party organisation and party democracy: the emergence of the cartel party. Party Politics, 1, 528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
13.Schmitter, P. C. (2001) Parties are not what they once were, in Diamond, L. and Gunther, R. (eds) Political Parties and Democracy (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press).Google Scholar
14. For varied perspectives on deliberative democracy and accounts of the rise of this perspective in contemporary democratic theory, see J. S. Fishkin and P. Laslett (eds) (2003) Debating Deliberative Democracy (London: Blackwell); M. Saward (ed.) (2000) Democratic Innovation: Deliberation, Representation and Association (London: Routledge).Google Scholar
15.Toynbee, P. (2007) Brown’s promises of people power open a Pandora’s box. The Guardian, 4 September.Google Scholar
16. It is not clear, however, that this process results in states being less powerful, rather than differently powerful. See Saward, M. (1997) In search of the hollow crown. In: Weller, P., Bakvis, H. and Rhodes, R. A. W. (eds) The Hollow Crown (London: Macmillan).Google Scholar
17. See for example J. Newman (ed.) (2005) Remaking Governance (Bristol: The Policy Press).Google Scholar
18. A loose periodisation is implied by the way in which I have presented the three modes of representation. A much fuller analysis might entertain the overarching idea that historical movements among these, and perhaps other, modes are pendular, that is (for example) that more societal modes (such as the popular and the reflexive, on a broad interpretation) tend to give way to more statal ones, and vice versa. Parties do seek to keep ahead of trends, and to seek competitive advantage in their representative claim-making in so doing. Naturally enough, they might look to cultivate their structures, and their images, in societal modes when state modes are both predominant and under pressure.Google Scholar
19. Cited in Bartolini, S. and Mair, P. (2001) Challenges to contemporary political parties. In: Diamond, L. and Gunther, R. (eds) Political Parties and Democracy (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press), pp. 327344, p. 330.Google Scholar
20. See the analysis of Mair for comments on competitors to political parties with respect to representation. Mair, P. (2006) Ruling the void? The hollowing of western democracy. New Left Review, 42, 2551.Google Scholar
21.Derrida, J. (2004) The last of the rogue states: the ‘democracy to come’. South Atlantic Quarterly, 103, 323341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
22. See Fieschi, C. (2007) How British parties lost our favour. Parliamentary Affairs, 60, 143152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
23.Schmitter, P. C. (2001) Parties are not what they once were. In: Diamond, L. and Gunther, R. (eds) Political Parties and Democracy (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press).Google Scholar
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