Representing judgment – Judging representation: Rhetoric, judgment and ethos in democratic representation

Contemporary Political Theory 18 (4):519-540 (2019)
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The ‘constructivist turn’ in political representation literature has clarified that representation is crucial in forging identities – through the creation of ideological and symbolic representations that mobilize and coalesce otherwise scattered and undefined social forces – and thus also why it is essentially an interpretative and performative activity. In this article I argue that, as a consequence of this emphasis on interpretation and performativity, this approach makes clear why the ethos of representatives is important in representation. To prove this, I employ some insights from rhetoric. Rhetorical persuasion and democratic representation, indeed, call for a similar kind of judgment, as they both need to mediate between opposing exigencies: rhetoric between attentiveness to the specificity of the audience and the creation of new beliefs, and representation between being responsive to specific interests and giving them a new articulation. Mediating this tension requires an exercise of judgment that, being directed toward the future, inevitably introduces uncertainty into the relation. This is why both in rhetoric and representation the ethos is an essential element. However, as I argue in the conclusion, the personal qualities that should be considered relevant here are above political qualities, rather than technical or moral ones.



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