functional representation

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Functional representation may be contrasted to the more usual form of territorial representation where a legislator is elected to represent a defined territorial unit and all the citizens who live within it. Samuel Beer defined the term as referring to ‘any theory that finds the community divided into various strata, regards each of these strata as having a certain corporate unity, and holds that they ought to be represented in government’. In the twentieth century these were generally regarded as groupings emerging from the division of labour in society such as employers, labour, and farmers. Demands were made from time to time by leading politicians for an ‘industrial parliament’ in Britain. Such ideas took root in continental Europe, influenced by the corporate emphasis of Catholic social thought. Austria developed a series of chambers of commerce, labour, etc. with compulsory membership and a system of elections. Five of the six founding member states of the European Community had developed consultative bodies representing socio‐economic interests, leading to the establishment at European level of an Economic and Social Committee with three groups of members: employers, workers, and other interests. The limited impact that this body has had on policy‐making reflects a broader decline of interest in functional representation. It is associated with the idea of corporatism which is far less popular than it once was. Twenty‐first century societies are characterized by the disintegration of traditional social strata based on the division of labour and their replacement by a more fragmented social structure with multiple sources of identity which is less amenable to functional forms of representation.


Subjects: Politics.

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