What is a Descriptive Representative?
By Danielle Casarez Lemi, Southern Methodist University
What is a descriptive representative? The study of descriptive representation by ethnorace—that is, the presence of elected officials who reflect descriptive characteristics of their constituents (Dovi 2002; Mansbridge 1999; Pitkin 1967)—is a hallmark of American politics research (Brown 2014; Butler and Broockman 2011; Canon and Posner 1999; Casellas 2010; Gay 2002; Grose 2011; Hardy-Fanta et al.2016; Lublin 1999; Minta 2011; Minta and Sinclair-Chapman 2013; Rouse 2013; Swain 1993; Tate 2003). Although the literature tends to treat ethnorace as a binary construct and focuses on intergroup diversity (e.g., Sen and Wasow 2016, but see Bejarano 2013; Brown 2014; Hardy-Fanta et al. 2016), there are abundant opportunities to pursue agendas that focus on intragroup diversity and consider the wide variation within ethnoracial categories. Examining such diversity serves two purposes: (1) it un-essentializes members of group categories (Haywood 2017; hooks 1991); and (2) it more accurately reflects the malleability of “ethnorace” (Davenport 2020; Masuoka 2017; Sen and Wasow 2016).