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Testing the politics of presence. A comparative study on the importance of gender, class and ethnicity for the parliamentary process in Sweden

Lena Wangnerud
University of Gothenburg
Lena Wangnerud
University of Gothenburg
Open Panel

Abstract

The theory of ‘the politics of presence’ (Phillips, 1995) posits that women politicians are best equipped to represent women’s interests. From its basis in sociology, what the theory says is that everyday life experiences are significant to the formation of political views and behaviours. The theory has gained reasonable support in recent empirical research (Wängnerud 2009 presents an overview). However, empirical research also shows that not all women politicians promote gender equality or particularly represent the situations of women citizens. One of the most interesting challenges to the theory of the politics of presence is formulated by Young (2000). This alternative approach may be called the theory of ‘the politics of awareness’. The central idea in this theory is that politicians need to consciously relate to a particular group’s social experience in order to represent that group’s interests. The focus of this paper is on the tension described above. The core idea is that useful insights could be gained from a comparison of gender, class, and ethnicity. Even though ‘intersectionality’ is something of a buzz-word in contemporary debates on representation, there are few empirical studies that simultaneously try to measure the importance of gender, class, and ethnicity in the parliamentary process. The research question is ‘Who is transforming the political agenda in the Swedish Parliament?’ This question implies a study of political priorities, political standpoints, and the promotion of certain policies. The advantage with studying the parliamentary process in Sweden is to a large extent pragmatic; here we have a unique set of parliamentary questionnaires covering the period 1985-2010 including a large number of relevant indicators. The data allows for firm controls for conventional background characteristics such as party-affiliation, age, and parliamentary experience. This is a case study on Sweden, however, it enables for future cross-country comparative research.