Anne Phillips' understanding and interpretation of the theory of representation is quite interesting. The idea of representation in electoral politics goes back more than a century, but it has since been refined and expanded to cover a wide range of demographic and electoral contingencies…
The most symbolic event of this political transformation is the recent election of Barack Obama to the office of President. The rest of this essay will critically assess Anne Phillips' "politics of presence" theory of representation, by contrasting it to alternative theories and interpretations forwarded by other scholars. In the introduction to her book 'The Politics of Presence', Anne Phillips states that
"most voters know too little about the candidates to make their talents or virtues the basis for political choice. Most voters, indeed, would query whether these should be a central concern. We might all wish to be represented by people we regard as wiser or more able than ourselves, but, faced with a choice between someone more competent and someone whose views we can share, we usually feel safer in giving our support to the latter. The political party provides us with the necessary shorthand for making our political choice: we look at the label rather than the person, and hope we will not be let down." (Phillips, 1998, p.15)
The above passage captures the essential dilemma confronting a voter, who is often unsure of which candidate truly represents his/her interests, opinions and beliefs and in turn will help create matching policy measures. Typically, there are no concrete ways in which one can ascertain if a candidate really represents the aspirations of the voter. To this extent the democratic system is said to operate on "the politics of ideas". Anne Phillips' model of representation based on "politics of presence" aims to provide an alternative framework for analyzing representation. At the centre of political representation based on presence is the demand for equality based on gender, race, class and other parameters of a particular democratic society. The well-entrenched politics of ideas, which is the dominant model in the twentieth century, suggests "a broadly secular understanding of politics as a matter of judgement and debate, and expects political loyalties to develop around policies rather than people" (Phillips, 1998, p.16). But either due to the apparent failure of this model of representation or due to the compulsions of modern times, political scientists and public intellectuals are looking at alternative models of representation, based on avenues of "'typical' or 'mirror' or 'random' representation, which they have seen as a better approximation to the old dream of being ruler and ruled in turn, or as a more satisfactory way of ensuring that all interests are adequately addressed" (Phillips, 1998, p.16). Although Anne Phillips does not endorse these radical alternatives to traditional models of democratic representation, the theory based on 'politics of presence' is an effort toward the broader search for alternatives.
The politics of presence theory of representation tries to address the sense of political exclusion felt by communities defined by their race, gender or ethnicity. More specifically, the politics of presence "demands for the equal representation of women with men; demands for a more even-handed balance between the different ethnic groups that make up each society; demands for the political inclusion of groups that have come to see themselves as marginalized or ...
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