From Pitkin to Ankersmit: Representation and the Aesthetic Dimension of Democracy

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Although the democratic regimes which most of us – in the West, at least – live in are representative democracies, representation has never attained, unlike democracy, the unquestionable status of an appraisive concept. In a way, the adjective representative seems to point to a fiddly, but necessary, element of modern democracies which ultimately prevents them from being fully democratic. The suspicion towards representation, of course, resonates loudly in the contemporary populist rhetoric against the mainstream political class, but perhaps this is just an awakening of the wave of political indifference that swept across the West in the transition to the twenty-first century.
Be that as it may, the truth is that political theory and philosophy have generally been unfriendly to the notion of representation. On the one hand, normative political philosophy has tried either to close the gap between representatives and represented, by conceptualizing participatory and deliberative mechanisms as inclusive and non- hierarchical as possible, or to ground representative institutions on a consensually shared theory of justice. On the other hand, empirical democratic theory, the basis of political science, has accepted representation without thinking too much and too deeply about it. Elections and representative institutions, as the famous phrase goes, allow us to ‘throw the rascals out’ – leader selection through a competitive electoral process is, according to this minimalist definition, what sets democracies apart from autocratic regimes.
In this paper we aim to reconsider the role of representation in democratic theory. Our point of departure is Hanna F. Pitkin’s The Concept of Representation (1967), probably the most detailed and erudite conceptual analysis of representation written to date. Pitkin signals out different dimensions of the concept – formalistic, descriptive, symbolic, and performative – and discusses both their political and non-political uses in depth. However, she does not pursue the implications of her findings for democratic theory. Much later, and with no reference whatsoever to Pitkin’s work, the Dutch philosopher of history Frank Ankersmit published a collection of essays on Political Representation (2002) where a new genealogy of representative democracy is put forth. Ankersmit employs concepts such as ‘political style’ and ‘political creativity’ in his rehabilitation of Continental traditions – French liberalism and German romanticism – which are usually ignored or neglected by contemporary democratic theory. We intend to show that a dialogue between Pitkin and Ankersmit, i. e. between the conceptual precision of the former and the original historical narrative of the latter, could serve to summon up and reconsider an eminently aesthetic perspective on democratic ideas and practices.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2018
EventMANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory 2018 - University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sep 201812 Sep 2018


ConferenceMANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Dive into the research topics of 'From Pitkin to Ankersmit: Representation and the Aesthetic Dimension of Democracy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this