Unrepresentative Claims: Speaking for Oneself in a Social Movement
By Samuel Hayat, Sciences Po Center for Political Research (CEVIPOF)
Sometimes, people engaged in politics actively refuse to speak for anyone but themselves. These unrepresentative claims multiply in social movements in times of crisis. During the French Yellow Vest movement of 2018–2019, such unrepresentative claims were routinely made by Yellow Vest leaders, to the point of being a condition for having a leadership position in the movement. By making these unrepresentative claims, they declined any representative mandate, asserting their freedom from any instituted influence. However, by claiming to speak only for themselves, they also selected the aspects of their identity they performed. This allowed them to embody the people sharing this identity, recalling the medieval repraesentatio identitatis, but in a way adjusted to today’s greater personalization of politics. Drawing on this movement and on other examples of unrepresentative claims, we can delineate three broad ideal-types of identities that may be put forward by unrepresentative claims: generality, particularity, and individuality.