Coalition as Representation: Revitalizing Democratic Accountability and Participation



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Much of the literature on political representation focuses solely on the election process and deciphering who is the “best” candidate for the job. Often, the person that is thought to be a “good” representative is someone who has your same social identities; simply, the thought is, if you look like me, you represent me. However, this raises a question worthy of investigation: Is having a representative with your same identities your best chance at being represented? I argue that these notions rely on essentialist concepts of identity that actually end up being more limiting and further marginalize those with intersectional identities. As the literature mainly focuses on political elites, there is little attention to evaluating their ability to be in relationship with constituents once they are in power. Essentially, there is no consistent mechanism of accountability post-election. In this thesis, I will explain how the equitable representation of social identities is important in achieving representation, while at the same time, the actions of representatives and their ability to be accountable to their constituents is equally, if not more, salient. Primarily, I utilize Lisa Disch’s 2011 piece, “Towards a Mobilization Conception of Democratic Representation”, where she makes the necessary argument that representation is an ongoing process because just as social identities are continually constructed, so too are the political opinions that are associated with them. Thus, due to the construction of both identity and politics, representation is the ability to adapt to a mobilized constituency with evolving political needs and opinions. In order to further contextualize and revise Disch’s argument, I argue that to understand representation and its incredibly mobile nature, representation must be accompanied by three virtues: appreciation of political dynamism, an ethos of radical listening, and accountability. I argue that these three virtues, which are important aspects of coalition building, should inform our understanding of who makes a good representative. Additionally, this evaluation should be equally based upon the observation of tangible actions and one’s ability to be in relationship with constituents.



Representation, Coalition Building, Identity, Essentialism, Citizen Participation