Gender, Diversity & Political Representation

Karen Celis, RHEA

In this seminar, two crucial questions about the quality of democratic representation are covered: 1) What is ‘good’ representation – when are we ‘well’ represented? 2) How can we measure the quality of democratic representation in a ‘good’ way? In the search to answer these questions, Dr. Celis mainly focuses on the political representation of women, but the research also includes other groups, most importantly ethnic minorities. It involves normative theory building, thinking about research designs and methods, and empirical investigations. All this is done in intensive collaboration with other national and international scholars.

We live in an era where women’s issues and interests are increasingly, and explicitly, acknowledged to be diverse, and where they are unlikely to become any less diverse in the foreseeable future. The intersections of gender, class, ethnicity, age and sexual preference amongst others generate a multiple, and likely conflicting, set of women’s interests that warrant political representation in political systems seeking to be considered democratic. Theories of substantive representation must be able to cope with such complexity of interests: the substantive representation of women cannot be limited to the presence of a small (and likely partial) group of women in our elected political institutions, articulating a particular reading of women’s interests.

Against this backdrop, and wanting still to be able to establish the quality of women’s substantive representation we need to shift focus from the actors (women/feminist MPs) and content of representation (legislative and policy outcomes) onto the processes of representation. That process should meet three conditions: it should be responsive, inclusive and egalitarian. In other words, we ask of the representative process: is there responsiveness to all, and not just some, women? Are women’s heterogeneous interests included, or are some excluded? And are all claims accorded equal consideration?

This shift of focus from individual representatives and the outcom of representation, to the process of representation -and more precisely the three conditions for good representation – raises many questions. What makes a representative a good representative? What qualities should he/she/it have? Or are it rather the institutional characteristics/manifestations/practices that maximise responsiveness, inclusion and egalitarianism?

About the speaker
Karen Celis is research professor at the Department of Political Science, and co-director Research of RHEA (Centre of Expertise Gender Diversity and Intersectionality) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. She conducts theoretical and empirical research on political representation of groups, equality policies and state feminism. In her more recent work she investigates the political representation of groups from an explicit intersectional perspective. She has published widely on these topics including in journals like in Politics & Gender, International Political Science Review, Politics, Groups, and Identities, Representation, Parliamentary Affairs, Publius, West European Politics, Political Studies, Social Politics, Regional and Federal Studies, Comparative European Politics, Journal of Legislative Studies, and Journal of Women, Politics and Policy. She is co-editor of The Oxford Handbook on Gender and Politics (Oxford University Press, 2013), Gender, Conservatism and Representation (ECPRPress, 2015), and of the book series Gender and Comparative Politics (Routledge).

Venue: Room 0.16, UNU-MERIT, Boschstraat 24, Maastricht

Date: 21 June 2016

Time: 15:00 - 16:00  CET