When Representation Fails
Armin Schäfer, Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Münster, will be joining the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG) from September 2019 as Scholar in Residence. During his six-month stay in Cologne, Armin Schäfer will be offering a series of lectures on the theme of “In Defense of Democracy.” They will focus on explanatory models for the current crisis of democracy and whether the success of populist parties should be met with less or more and better democracy.
The focus of the second lecture is on the concept of representation and on empirical data that measures opinion differences between elites and different groups of citizens. Representation means acting on behalf of the represented in a manner responsive to them (Pitkin). Parliamentarians are neither mere delegates who simply put into action their constituents’ preferences nor trustees who can act totally independently of citizens’ preferences. While they are free in each individual decision that they make, they still have to explain and justify their choices—in particular, if those decisions diverge from citizens’ demands in crucial areas or over an extended period of time. Following the theoretical discussion, Schäfer looks at the gap between decision-makers’ and citizens’ preferences and discusses potential explanations.