Informal Political Representation: Normative and Conceptual Foundations
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CitationSalkin, Wendy. 2018. Informal Political Representation: Normative and Conceptual Foundations. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractIt is possible that, as you read this, there is someone out there standing in for you, speaking in your voice, acting in your stead, making agreements on your behalf, or conceding a point you might not have wanted them to. They are not your congressperson, your lawyer, or your spouse—nor anyone else authorized by means of a formal, corporately organized election or selection procedure. There is another sort of representative out there, someone you did not elect, someone you perhaps would not elect, of whom you may never have heard, speaking or acting on your behalf right now—they are an informal political representative.
Formal political representation is a familiar topic within democratic theory. Much less discussed, though no less widespread, is informal political representation: a practice in which a person speaks or acts for a group before an audience, despite never having been elected or selected to do so by means of a corporately organized election or selection procedure. Informal political representation is an everyday feature of our public communicative landscape. It is woven taut into the fabric of our political lives. Malala Yousafzai claims: “I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard.” Bono claims to “represent a lot of people who have no voice at all,” though “[t]hey haven’t asked me either. It’s cheeky, but I hope they’re glad I do . . . ” President Trump, before his nomination, was said “to give a voice to those who have long felt silenced.”
The informal representative, though neither elected nor selected, is ubiquitous and politically influential. They increase the visibility of marginalized and oppressed groups, give voice to interests not adequately expressed in formal political fora, influence public discourse, and serve as conduits between the represented and policymakers. They can, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did in Montgomery, negotiate on a group’s behalf. But so far, few have attempted to provide a theory of this phenomenon that gives full attention to both its conceptual and normative foundations. My dissertation provides a theory of informal political representation that does not treat the phenomenon as a mere deviant case of formal political representation, but rather takes informal political representation on its own terms.
In Chapter One, “The Phenomenon of Informal Political Representation,” I provide a novel account of this phenomenon. I argue that a person or group emerges as an informal political representative when and because they have been taken by an audience (on the basis of sufficient evidence) to speak or act on behalf of a group—call this audience uptake. Characterizing the phenomenon in this way reveals that one can end up speaking or acting for others though they are reluctant to do so (the unwilling representative) and perhaps even though they are unaware they are in such a position (the unwitting representative).
In Chapter Two, “Representative Powers,” I make a distinction between two types of powers that informal representatives can have with respect to those they represent: de facto power and normative powers. The informal representative has de facto power simply in virtue of receiving audience uptake. The informal representative’s de facto power is their ability to affect the interests and constrain the choices available to the represented group. Because the informal representative has de facto power to impact the represented group’s circumstances, they have corresponding general moral duties to the represented group, even if neither the representative nor the represented group wants that representative to occupy the position. The informal representative may also have normative powers with respect to the represented, but only if the representative has received group uptake. I illustrate the phenomenon of group uptake using the example of the Montgomery bus boycott, during which King emerged as an informal representative for black Montgomerians.
In Chapter Three, “Democracy Within, Justice Without: The Duties of Informal Political Representatives,” I focus on cases of informal political representation where the representative speaks or acts for a group whose members are not afforded equal treatment in their society. I argue that, to promote the realization of a society of equals, informal representatives for such groups must aim to satisfy two types of duties: (i) justice without duties: the representative’s duties to use their position to promote conditions of social equality for the represented group when they are before an audience; and (ii) democracy within duties: the representative’s duty to forge a democratic relationship between themself and the represented whereby they treat the represented as their equals and do not dominate the represented.
In Chapter Four, “The Complaints of the Represented,” I provide a framework for understanding the legitimate complaints that the represented may raise against the informal political representative. The relationship between the informal representative and those they represent is a wide-ranging and many-voiced conversation. It is a dialogue, an ongoing exchange of ideas, reasons, explanations, and justifications passed between the representative and the represented. As such, it is important to understand one of the most important features of that ongoing exchange—namely, the legitimate complaints of the represented. The aim of this chapter is to zero in on those types of legitimate complaints which could only sensibly be raised against someone who is in the position of informal representative and which could only sensibly be raised by the represented themselves.
In Chapter Five, “The Limits of Similitude and Deference,” I consider two principles that have been endorsed as necessary constraints on the practice of informal political representation, which I call, respectively, The Demand for Similitude (Similitude) and The Demand for Deference (Deference). According to Similitude, one may be an informal representative for a group only if either one is oneself a member of that group or one is descriptively similar to the group’s members. According to Deference, if one is an informal representative for a group, then one ought always to defer to that group’s members when deciding how to represent the group. I argue that these two principles, when stated as necessary constraints, are false. I offer that, instead, we have good reason to endorse weaker versions of these two principles. I then argue that, in fact, (i) in some cases, we should favor representation by people who are neither members of the group they represent nor descriptively similar to group members, and (ii) in some cases, deference to the group’s members is not best for the represented group.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41128463
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