Dissertation, KU Leuven (2014)

Political Representation: A Historical and Conceptual investigation into Its Polysemy The aim of this study is to value the complexity of theoretical formulations that different traditions and authors have provided on the problem of political representation. This is achieved by relying on a text that has pioneered this kind of investigation: Hasso Hofmann s Repräsentation: Studien zur Wort- und Begriffsgeschichte von der Antike bis ins 19. Jahrhundert. Hofmann s book, originally published in German in 1974, has not received due attention in the contemporary debate on representation and is scarcely known in the non-German academic environment. However, its unique methodological and conceptual outlook on representation has much to contribute to the current debate on this topic. Hofmann s main objective is to draw a history and theory of representation that values the polysemy of the Latin word repraesentatio from Antiquity until the 19th century. To achieve this goal, Hofmann analyses the diverse meanings that have been attached to the word representation throughout its history, from its inception in the Latin world onwards. To prove the relevance of this approach for the contemporary debate, I apply Hofmann s semantic-conceptual map of representation to the study of political representation in such diverse authors as Marsilius of Padua, Carl Schmitt, Thomas Hobbes, Ernst Kantorowicz as well as contemporary authors such as Bernard Manin, Nadia Urbinati, Frank Ankersmit, John Dryzek and others. In so doing, I show that the answer to the question: what makes representation a political notion? is far from univocal. Moreover, I argue that Hofmann s interpretive lens provides an alternative approach to what is still considered the classical study of political representation in the Anglophone world: Hanna Pitkin s The Concept of Representation. By critically comparing Pitkin and Hofmann s approaches to the problem of political representation, my aim is to demonstrate that Pitkin s normative perspective should be revised. Pitkin argues, first, that it is possible to pinpoint a general meaning of the concept of representation as making present again and, second, that there is a general concept of political representation that is identified with substantive acting for and in which all aesthetic meanings of representation are excluded. In contrast to this approach, Hofmann stresses the polysemyc character of representation, and the impossibility of narrowing down a general meaning of the concept. Drawing on Hofmann, one can argue that the semantic richness of political representation is just as broad as that of the word representation itself and that what makes representation political varies from epoch to epoch, from author to author. As a result, the common way to look at political representation nowadays, i.e. as democratic representation, is far from the only one but constitutes, rather, just one of the numerous ways to look at this concept over time. Using Hofmann s perspective for the study of political representation also helps us show that the aesthetic meanings of representation are always and intrinsically bound up with political representation in all the authors who have theorized this concept. In contrast to Pitkin, one could argue that any meaningful concept of political representation must also include the aesthetic and symbolic meanings of representation. Accordingly, it is impossible to think of political representation without accounting for its symbolic dimension as Darstellung.
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