Mechanisms of Representation

Will Jennings

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online November 2011 | | DOI:
Mechanisms of Representation

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  • Comparative Politics
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“Mechanisms of representation” relate to the organization of politics and its consequences, and the processes through which interests or preferences are represented in the political system and the outcomes of public policy. This article explores a diverse set of mechanisms through which politics is organized, and through which the preferences or interests of the public, voters, groups, and economic interests are either advanced or obstructed. Traditional approaches of political science often adopted a narrow focus on the formal democratic qualities of elected government and the pluralism of the political system in incorporating different interests or preferences into the decision-making process and policy outcomes. Later waves of research sought to explore bias in mechanisms of representation, such as the disproportionate influence of interest groups in the governmental process and the power of agenda setting in determining which issues make it onto the decision-making table and when. Nevertheless, there continues to be considerable interest in the role of formal political institutions in determining the performance of representative democracy, how political parties act as vehicles for representation, and how elections can provide mandates to governments and enable voters to reward or punish political parties or candidates for the quality of their representation or performance. Indeed, a growing field of enquiry identifies a direct link between the preferences of the public and their representatives, either in the representation of constituency opinion or in the responsiveness of the political system as a whole. Despite this pervasive concern throughout the discipline of political science with the functioning of democratic politics, important changes in modern states, economies, and societies occurring outside elected institutions also shape representation, particularly as executive governance and politics has assumed increasing importance. The conventional understanding of mechanisms of representation is built upon shifting sands, with the emergence of the “regulatory state” and the decline of traditional distributive and command activities of government, and with ever more “networked,” “nonhierarchical,” and “transnational” modes of governing—often by unelected authorities. These changing institutional arrangements also reflect a response to the rise of risk as a focus of organization, as traditional social and economic cleavages are redrawn and reconstructed around questions of risk—often manmade, created through scientific innovation or economic progress. These changes point toward the changing battleground for representation both of public and political interests and the increasing importance of understanding questions of bureaucratic politics and control, transnational regulation, the management of risk, and the preoccupation of officeholders with the avoidance of blame. Mechanisms of representation shed light on all these things and more, encompassing the role of institutions in reflecting public or private interests in the decision-making process.

Article.  16175 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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