From Maastricht to Brexit by Richard Bellamy and Dario Castiglione

A Problem-Driven Approach to Political Representation

Civil Society
Comparative Politics
Political Parties
Electoral Behaviour
Normative Theory
Section Number
Section Chair
Eline Severs
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Section Co-Chair
Sandra Kröger
University of Exeter

Eline Severs is assistant professor in political science at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. She conducts theoretical and empirical research on political representation. Her research centres on representative ethics, elites’ conceptions of representation, and citizens’ expectations toward representative democracy. She has published on these issues in a broad range of scientific journals.

Sandra Kröger is senior lecturer in the political department at the University of Exeter. Her work focuses on different forms of political representation, both electoral and non-electoral. She has widely published on the issue, including a monograph with ECPR Press which appeared in 2016. She is also the convenor of the ECPR Standing Group on Political Representation.

Section description
Increasingly, scholars are expressing concerns over the division between the empirical and theoretical literatures on political representation. Some divide, reflecting the division of labour between normative theory and empirical research, is understandable. Increasingly, however, the two literatures appear to be measuring the world on the basis of different ideals while remaining centered on the same concept. This divide is most evident in scholars’ diverging approaches to political responsiveness. While many empirical scholars conceive of responsiveness as the hallmark of democracy – evidencing democratic control –, theorists conceive of responsiveness as but one relevant standard and promote closer attention to the (proper) composition of the demos and its capacity for self-determination.

Although scholars’ diverging approaches to political representation (e.g. ‘mimetic vs constitutive’ and ‘dyadic vs systemic’) complicate cross-fertilisation between empirical and theoretical research, they do not render mutual engagement redundant or futile. Empirical measures invariably trade off some of the subtlety and richness of theoretical concepts for analytical precision. The benefits of such trade-off, however, only follow from measures that retain a demonstrable connection to theory. Similarly, normative theorists continue to depend on empirical research – and its impressive array of insights on the impact of institutional design, historical and socio-political cultures on citizens’ agency – for adequate understanding of the concrete ways in which the social and political order is reproduced.

As a way to renew mutual engagement, this Section promotes a problem-driven approach to political representation. It invites scholars to re-centre their work on the particular problems that political representation is expected to solve in contemporary democracies and asks them to re-articulate how representation may contribute to core functions of democracy, such as collective will-formation, inclusion, empowerment, and collective decision-making. The Section also invites empirical scholars to reconsider and refine, in light of theoretical innovations, the relationship between theoretical concepts and empirical measures, and to link their empirical findings more closely to contemporary normative theory. This Section welcomes Panels that seek to establish new connections and exchanges between representation theory and empirical research and that zoom in on particular “problems” of representative democracy or consider lacuna in the extant literature. To this end, we request eight Panel slots.

Envisaged Panels
1. Representation studies beyond the “constructivist” turn
Chair/Discussant: Henrik Enroth – Linnaeus University (
Outline: The so-called “constructivist turn” in representation theory has been the object of much interest and debate. Scholars, however, still need to take stock of this work. This Panel welcomes Papers that identify and discuss its philosophical and sociological presuppositions and unpack its implications for empirical research: what do we gain but perhaps also lose from the “constructivist turn”, and where do we go from here?

2. The polysemy of representation in western and non-western contexts
Chair/Discussant: Alessandro Mulieri – KU Leuven ( & Yves Sintomer – Université Paris 8 (
Outline: Representation is a concept that includes several different and often incompatible meanings. This Panel aims to tackle the polysemy of representation through a comparative political thought perspective. It welcomes Papers on the political implications of different meanings of representation in western and non-western political contexts.

3. Representation, judgment and constituent power
Chair/Discussant: Eline Severs – Vrije Universiteit Brussel (
Outline: Acknowledging the lack of objective benchmarks for democratic action, scholars increasingly define the quality of representative systems in terms of citizens’ capacity for resistance (i.e. their capacity for objecting to the representative claims made in their name). This Panel welcomes Papers that unpack the implications of this particular conceptualisation of constituent power, and clarify its relation to the principle of democratic self-rule.

4. Representations of heterogeneity in the EU
Chair/Discussant: Sandra Kröger, University of Exeter ( and Richard Bellamy, European University Institute (
Outline: In recent years, one-size-fits-all policies have increasingly come under pressure in the EU, as exemplified in the Euro and refugee crises and through the Brexit vote. Often (though not always), the resistance to such policies expresses legitimate concerns for respect of heterogeneity between member states. This Panel welcomes Papers that either empirically explore how the EU has responded to requests to represent heterogeneity or that normatively explore how the EU ought to respond to such requests.

5. Populism, anti-establishment politics and representation
Chair/Discussant: Benjamin Moffitt – Stockholm University ( & Dario Castiglione, University of Exeter (
Outline: Populism and the rise of anti-establishment politics (e.g., Brexit or Trump) are often blamed on a failure of representation. Yet surprisingly little academic work has explored the links between populism, anti-establishment politics and representation. Papers in this Panel explore why populism is viewed in this way, what populist and anti-establishment actors have to offer in terms of representation that “mainstream” actors do not, and what this mean for the quality of representative democracy.

6. Body performances and political representation
Chair/Discussant: Paula Diehl – Humboldt-Universität Zu Berlin ( & Petra Meier – University of Antwerp (
Outline: The “constructivist turn” has expanded scholars’ attention from formal politics to more informal and fluid processes of claim-making. This Panel focuses on the role and impact of claim-makers’ bodies in political representation. The body not only enables politicians to speak, it also allows them to show emotions, and prove authenticity. The body’s performativity therefore constitutes an important yet often overlooked factor in representation processes.

Panel List

P287Political Representation beyond Electoral Democracy View Panel Details
P295Populism, Anti-Establishment Politics and Representation View Panel Details
P328Representation Studies Beyond 'The Constructivist Turn' View Panel Details
P329Representation, Judgment and Constituent Power View Panel Details
P330Representations of Heterogeneity in the EU View Panel Details
P416The Polysemy of Representation in Western and Non-Western Contexts I View Panel Details
P417The Polysemy of Representation in Western and Non-Western Contexts II View Panel Details
Share this page

"The less the power, the greater the desire to exercise it" - Bernard Levin

Back to top