The Politics of Presence

The Politics of Presence

The Politics of Presence

The Politics of Presence

Synopsis

One of the most hotly-contested debates in contemporary democracy revolves around issues of political presence, and whether the fair representation of disadvantaged groups requires their presence in elected assemblies. Representation as currently understood derives its legitimacy from a politics of ideas, which considers accountability in relation to declared policies and programs, and makes it a matter of relative indifference who articulates political preferences or beliefs. What happens to the meaning of representation and accountability when we make the gender or ethnic composition of elected assemblies an additional area of concern? In this innovative contribution to the theory of representation--which draws upon debates about gender quotas in Europe, minority voting rights in the USA, and the multi-layered politics of inclusion in Canada--the author argues that the politics of ideas is an inadequate vehicle for dealing with political exclusion. But eschewing any essentialist grounding to group identity or group interest, she also argues against either/or choice between ideas and political presence. The work then combines with contemporary explorations of deliberative democracy to establish a different balance between accountability and autonomy.

Excerpt

I began the work for this book courtesy of a Social Science Research Fellowship from the Nuffield Foundation in 1992-3, and did much of the initial writing up during a Research Fellowship at the Humanities Research Centre of the Australian National University in the first months of 1994. I am very grateful for the opportunity these two fellowships gave me. The luxury of a full year to work exclusively on one project made it possible for me to explore avenues I might otherwise have ignored; while the ANU provided just the combination of scholarly peace and intellectual stimulation that I needed to get going on writing. I am also very grateful to London Guildhall University for generously enabling me to take up the second fellowship so soon after the first.

I was able to try out some of the initial ideas at a workshop on 'Citizenship and Plurality', which took place at the Joint Sessions of the European Consortium for Political Research at the University of Leiden in April 1993; and at the Annual Conference for the Study of Political Thought (on the theme of 'Democracy and Difference'), which was held at Yale in the same month. I learnt a great deal from the participants at both, as well as from the many people who commented on later versions at universities across the UK, Ireland, and Australia. Throughout the period of writing, I benefited from numerous discussions with Wendy Stokes on issues of democracy and representation. I also benefited from various arguments with Ciaran Driver, whose sceptical response to my initial formulations helped me to clarify their basis.

Will Kymlicka, David Miller, and Iris Young made extremely helpful comments on the first draft of the book; in each case, these highlighted inadequacies I had been trying to forget, and spurred me on to address them more fully. Iwan Morgan corrected some of my misapprehensions about American politics, and Will Kymlicka corrected many of my misapprehensions about Canadian politics; neither, of course, should be held accountable for any mistakes that may have crept subsequently into the final version. Tim Barton and Dominic Byatt encouraged me through the various stages of writing . . .

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