The Limits of Political Representation

Howard Schweberby Howard Schweber, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Abstract: “A representation is always a selective and limited reproduction of the thing represented, an idea captured in the metaphor of a map. What is left out of a representation is as important as what is included. A specifically political conception of representation implies limits to the scope of that conception, the nature and character of the represented constituency, and the relationship between constituent and representative, irrespective of variations in institutional design and practice. The limits of political representation reflect normative commitments; consequently, a focus on those limits is central to an evaluation of representative practices. While it is important to look beyond familiar institutional forms, excessively inclusive descriptions of “representative,” “constituency,” or “representation” deprive those conceptions of their substantive content. The limits of political representation are not defects to be overcome by an ever-expanding definition of representation, they are an essential focus in the normative or empirical analysis of representative institutions and practices.”

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American Political Science Review is political science’s premier scholarly research journal, providing peer-reviewed articles and review essays from subfields throughout the discipline. Areas covered include political theory, American politics, public policy, public administration, comparative politics, and international relations. APSR has published continuously since 1906.