Representation (politics)

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Representation is a central political science term that is important in all sub-areas of the subject, but especially in political theory and the history of ideas . With the help of the concept of representation, scientists investigate under which conditions

  • political action is authorized on behalf of a political entity and
  • when this authorized action has a binding effect on the represented political unit.

Research areas

The research area political representation is extremely differentiated. There are several strands within research. A first strand deals with the development and further development of the term. A distinction is made between a narrow and a broad definition. Another area stems from the comparison and normative evaluation of representative democracy and direct democracy in democratic theory . Perhaps the largest strand builds on Hanna F. Pitkin's distinction between four forms of political representation.

The lexical definition of representation reveals the broad scope of the term: initially determined unspecifically as <representation, befitting appearance, effort>, in philosophy and psychology it is understood to mean the <visualization of what is not immediately given in the imagination>. In politics, on the other hand, representation in the broader sense is the form of rule that is not tied to political systems, exercised by virtue of election or (class) privilege in the form of a free or bound mandate, in the narrower sense the guiding principle of representative democracy.

Due to the wide range of the term and the most diverse theories of representation, Hasso Hofmann suggests understanding representation as a synsemantic or syncategorical expression that only ever develops its meaning in a particular context, and is even only constituted by the history of its use.

For the political and political science interpretation of the term, the equation of R. with representative constitution or representative democracy , which emerged from the struggle for constitution and democracy since the 19th century, is decisive :

Narrow and broad definition

The approach according to Ernst Fraenkel can be used as a narrower definition :

“Representation is the legally authorized exercise of power by constitutionally appointed organs of a state or other public authority acting in the name of the people, but without its binding mandate, which derive their authority directly or indirectly from the people and legitimize them with the claim to the overall interest to serve the people and thus to carry out their true will "

- Ernst Fraenkel.

A broad definition can be found in Hanna F. Pitkin :

"[R] presentation, taken generally, means the making present in some sense of something which is nevertheless not present literally or in fact" "

- Hanna F. Pitkin

"Representation generally means the making present in a certain way of something that is nonetheless literally or actually not present."

- Ulrich von Alemann

The narrow definition is aimed at the area of politics , i.e. the political-administrative area, and is particularly useful for empirical-analytical analysis in this area. The broad definition, on the other hand, also includes the area of politics .

Colloquially , the terms representation and representative often only refer to the functions of a symbolic and ceremonial representation, for example in connection with the functions of such heads of state , whose political influence is largely limited to the symbolic and ceremonial representation of their nations or their states ( Pouvoir neutre ).

Direct versus Representative Democracy

Overcoming the contradiction

The ideal-typical contrast between representative and direct democracy has faded more and more in recent years. Some authors have already asked to what extent direct and representative elements complement or complement one another in a positive way.

“In a democracy ... the rule of the people must be presented both in its form and made concrete through binding decisions that originate from the people and apply to the people. Representation underlies every form of democracy. For 'representative democracies' this is obvious from their naming. But also grassroots democratic forms of will formation and direct democratic procedures are first and foremost configurations of a political unity that must appear as such; ... "

New interpretation of political representation

Some authors reinterpret political representation in the context of democracy. The authors no longer assess the principle of representation as a "necessary evil, but as a condition for making political freedom possible in the first place.

Forms of representation

Democratic representation is usually equated with representation in everyday politics . In political science, however, this is partially rejected. Hanna F. Pitkin provides a systematic foundation for political representation by distinguishing formal representation from symbolic , descriptive and substantial representation . She herself concentrates on substantial representation. In doing so, she particularly addresses the dilemma of trustee and delegate , which she wants to see solved by a concept of responsiveness. Ultimately, it is not a question of depicting or executing an already existing will of the people, but rather of forming this “popular will” through representation.

Today, however, there is also a high level of research activity in the area of ​​symbolic as well as descriptive representation.

Another concept provides certain basic requirements for representation. According to this, this is only given if - the representatives act in the interests of the represented and act responsively - the representatives and the represented are able to act independently of one another, so that conflicts can arise between them at any time ("representative conflict potential") and - the representatives succeeds in keeping the conflict potential largely pacified.

Functions of representation

The task of representation is to make a political association (e.g. the people of the state ) capable of acting, willing and able to make decisions through the formation of governing bodies .

In a democracy , this task is only fulfilled if the actors (representatives) are not only authorized once, but repeatedly and confirmingly. Democratic representation must meet the requirements of two levels:

  1. Formal legal level : legitimation via a so-called legitimation chain
  2. Political-ethical level : the individuals of the represented political association must be able to identify with the actions of the representatives , they must "find themselves in it"

If these characteristics are met, one speaks of a representative democracy . It can be distinguished from participatory democracy and direct democracy , in which participation enables direct influence without representatives.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Ernst Fraenkel: Germany and the Western Democracies, Frankfurt a. M. [1964] (1991), p. 157.
  2. ^ Hanna F. Pitkin: The Concept of Representation, Los Angeles / Berkeley 1967, p. 8 f.
  3. Ulrich von Alemann : Representation, in: Dieter Nohlen : Dictionary State and Politics, Bonn 1998, p. 655.
  4. cf. Hans Vorländer: Paths to modern democracy, in: Information on political education H. 2844 , Bonn, pp. 18–2.
  5. cf. Beatrice Brunhöber: The Invention of 'Democratic Representation' in the Federalist Papers. Tübingen 2010.
  6. cf. Heinrich Oberreuter : Representative and plebiscitary elements as complementary political principles, in: Günther Rüther (Ed.): Representative or plebiscitary democracy - an alternative ?, Baden-Baden 1996, pp. 261-274.
  7. cf. Daniel Thürer : Direct Democracy in Germany, Trier 2007, download from the Institute for Legal Policy at the University of Trier , [accessed on September 2, 2010].
  8. Gerhard Göhler: Political Representation in Democracy, in: Thomas Leif , Hans-Josef Legrand, Ansgar Klein (ed.): The political class in Germany. Elites on the test stand, Bonn / Berlin 1992, p. 110.
  9. cf. Winfried Thaa : Critique and reassessment of political representation: from the obstacle to the possibility condition of political freedom , in: Politische Vierteljahresschrift 49/2008: p.618–640.
  10. cf. Claude Lefort: The question of democracy, in: Ulrich Rödel (Ed.): Autonomous Society and Libertarian Democracy, Frankfurt a. M., 1990, pp. 281-297.
  11. cf. Ernst Vollrath : Identity Representation and Difference Representation , in: Rechtsphilosophische Hefte, contributions to jurisprudence, Vol. 1: Law and Moral, 1993, pp. 65–78.


  • Laura Gorriahn: Participation and Representation , in: Gisela Riescher (Ed.): Tension Fields of Political Theory, Stuttgart 2014, pp. 68–84.
  • Hasso Hofmann: Representation. Studies on the history of words and concepts from antiquity to the 19th century , Berlin 1998.
  • Philip Manow: Representation , in: Martin Hartmann / Claus Offe (eds.): Political theory and political philosophy. Ein Handbuch, Munich 2011, pp. 297–299
  • Hanna F. Pitkin: The Concept of Representation , Los Angeles / Berkeley 1967.
  • Winfried Thaa : Criticism and reassessment of political representation: from the obstacle to the possibility condition of political freedom , in: Politische Vierteljahresschrift 49/2008: P. 618–640.
  • Winfried Thaa: The unsolved problem of inclusion in the participatory reassessments of political representation , in: Markus Linden / Winfried Thaa (ed.): The political representation of foreigners and poor, Baden-Baden 2009, 61–78.
  • Ernst Vollrath : Identity Representation and Difference Representation , in: Ulrich Steinvorth (ed.), Law and Moral (Legal Philosophical Hefts, Contributions to Jurisprudence, Vol. 1), Frankfurt am Main 1993, pp. 65–78.
  • Quirin Weber: Parliament - Place of Political Decision? Legitimation problems of modern parliamentarianism, Basel 2011.

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