Michael James, Associate Professor of Political Science
How do we distinguish legitimate, democratic representation from illegitimate, undemocratic elite rule? Empirical scholars of representation typically rely on the “bedrock norm” that democratic representatives must respond to the antecedent interests of their constituents, but empirical studies of public opinion suggest that constituents’ interests emerge following engagement with their representatives. The result is the “constituency paradox”: representatives are supposed to respond to constituent interests, interests that representatives themselves help to create. Deliberative democratic theories seek to circumvent this paradox by distinguishing between representatives who communicatively educate their constituents from those who strategically manipulate them, but it is empirically impossible to distinguish legitimate education from illegitimate manipulation. Nondeliberative criteria requiring elite competition and popular contestation also fail to ground legitimate democratic representation. In response, I develop a model of constituency deliberation that does not rely on the bedrock norm, accepts strategic as well as communicative action, acknowledges the asymmetric but reciprocal relationship between constituents and representatives, and uses a systemic approach to assess democratic representation. This deliberative model leads to institutional reforms that avoid the bedrock norm and seek to mitigate representative manipulation by creating space for constituents to respond to representatives’ claims to represent their interests.
James, Michael. “Constituency Deliberation.” Political Research Quarterly 68, no. 3 (2015) : 552-563.