UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The democratic legitimacy of 'self-appointed' representatives Montanaro, Laura


Standard accounts of democratic representation involve both the authorization of a representative by election, and the accountability of elected officials to their constituents for their performance in office. Yet actors such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, and the musician Bono, who make representative claims outside of formal representative institutions – who “self-appoint” – are an increasingly important part of today’s political landscape. On most standard accounts of democratic representation, the absence of formal authorization and accountability renders such activities non-democratic, regardless of any good achieved. Yet the case for their credentials is rooted in a norm that is at the heart of most contemporary democratic theories: those potentially affected by a collective decision should have some say in making that decision. From an empirical perspective, there is a need for a theory of representation that will identify the types of self-appointed representatives that, although unelected, comprise growing and important parts of our political landscape. From an analytic perspective, there is a pressing need for criteria that will allow us to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate claims of self-appointed representatives. To develop the theory required, I develop a general account of representation that identifies representative relationships apart from electoral representation. Because this framework interrupts the close association of representation with elections, we are able to conceptualize actors who claim to represent by self-appointment as representatives, and perhaps even as democratic ones. Furthermore, viewing representation separately from electoral institutions expands our understanding of constituency to include peoples who do not neatly fall within the boundaries of electoral districts but who are affected by their law and policy. In fact, this is where the potentially democratic credentials of self-appointed representation are to be found: in its ability to identify and mobilize affected constituencies around claims of representation. I also conceptualize non-electoral mechanisms of authorization and accountability that may be used to guide, inform, and sanction the self-appointed representative. Understanding the concepts of representation and constituency in this fluid way is a necessary step in developing a democratic theory that is appropriate to the complex, globalizing, pluralistic, and highly differentiated societies within which we now live.

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