In “Political Representation,” Shapiro et al. (2009) say that “political representation lies at the core of modern politics.” Representation is usually linked to the concept of democracy (Shapiro et al. 2009). The concept of representation is explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution (U.S. Const. art. I, § 1, 2). However, the meaning and appropriate form of “representation” have been debated by political theorists and philosophers for centuries. The definition of representation one chooses to use is influenced by the form of representation one finds most appropriate. Given the different forms of representation, legislators can be responsive in different ways. Representation also operates at two different levels – the national and local level. This answer will explore the concept of “representation,” the different forms it can take, and how it is practiced, as well as the potential for future research on representation.
“Representation” can be defined in many ways. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, representation is “a method or process of enabling a constituency to influence legislation and government policy through deputies chosen by it.” According to the Oxford Dictionary, “representation” is the act of speaking or acting on behalf of someone. Some early philosophers and political theorists who wrote about representation include Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Thomas Hobbes discussed the concept of “implied agreement” in his book, Leviathan, in 1651. He argued that people agreed to give absolute power to a sovereign, who would then be responsible for making and enforcing laws in order to ensure a peaceful society (Hobbes 1996). Hanna Pitkin (1967) stated in her work that Hobbes clarified the central feature of modern representation – the “authorization” or “substantive” concept of representation, which views political representation as “acting for” the constituency. She claimed that this view of representation was not viable because it ignored the possibility that individuals may not approve of the representative’s actions. David Runciman also discussed Hobbes’ theory of implied agreement and argued that the theory of representation put forth in Leviathan viewed authorization and representation as two separate activities – the sovereign was given the authorization to act by individuals, but once authorized, represented not only those who authorized him but the collective body of all citizens as well (Shapiro et al. 2009). According to this view, the representative represents the interests of the state, not the individual, and a discrepancy between the constituency’s preferences and the representative’s actions is not problematic, because the representative does not directly represent the views of the individuals who elected him (Shapiro et al. 2009).
In Two Treatises of Government, John Locke (1823) argued that natural rights such as life, liberty and property could not be taken or given away by...