Report: DemocracyNet Research Workshop 2019

The research workshop “Political Representation in Democratic Systems” organized by DemocracyNet and the Doctoral Program Democracy Studies (DPDS) took place at the University of Zurich on September 9-10, 2019.

“Political Representation in Democratic Systems”

Democracy studies have recently undergone a major change in the way of conceiving representation. Long understood as one political practice among others, representation has been reconceptualized in this new, “constructivist” turn as an inescapable feature of (democratic) politics and lawmaking processes. On the one hand, it is necessary to the emergence and evolution of interests and preferences within the population and to the mobilization of constituencies in political decision-making processes. On the other hand, it is a practice that is not reserved to elected politicians, but one performed by a much wider range of non-elected actors.

This paradigm shift has raised a variety of new theoretical and empirical questions within democracy studies, such as:

  • How should “representation” and “representing” be defined? How to conceptualize it from a philosophical or legal perspective? How can we operationalize and measure it with empirical approaches?
  • What does the framing of certain practices as practices of representation add to existing debates? Are political parties, elected politicians, and mini-publics all “representatives” in the same sense, or are there important distinctions? What is the relationship between “representative democracy” and representation?
  • Who are the actors representing? Who are the actors represented? How can they be identified?
  • What influences the success or failure of practices of representation, e.g., at mobilizing (new) constituencies, at making issues and interests salient, at framing debates? What legal and institutional mechanisms enable the emergence or sanction of democratic representative actors? How do practices of representation differ in democratic and in non-democratic contexts?
  • Against what normative criteria should we evaluate instances of representation and representative actors? How should we understand demands for congruence or responsiveness on the part of citizens in relation to good representation? And what institutional arrangements can help realizing democratic representation?

These and other questions were at the center of the workshop. Ten junior researchers presented their work and received feedback from the participants and from advanced scholars (Prof. Tarik Abou-Chadi, Dr. Sara Amighetti, Dr. Jennifer Page, Prof. Marco Steenbergen).

Click here to access the full report of the workshop.
(And here to access the workshop program).

Keynote lecture by Prof. Jane Mansbridge (Harvard Kennedy School)

The workshop included a public keynote lecture on “Recursive Representation in the Shadow of Populism” by Prof. Jane Mansbridge (Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values, Harvard Kennedy School).

Click here to watch the video of Jane Mansbridge’s lecture.

Workshop organizers

This workshop was organized by members of DemocracyNet Alice el-Wakil, Arno Stirnimann, and Chiara Valsangiacomo.

It was organized in cooperation with and thanks to the generous support of the Doctoral Program “Democracy Studies” (DPDS) of the University of Zurich. Funding by the UZH Graduate Campus via a GRC Short Grant and by the peer-group of the Department of Political Science poliTics is gratefully acknowledged.