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Representing Silence in Politics

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JournalAmerican Political Science Review
DateAccepted/In press - 26 May 2020
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 7 Jul 2020
Issue number4
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)976-988
Early online date7/07/20
Original languageEnglish


Democratic representation focuses on voice: it conceives voice as that which is represented and as the prime mode of representing. This article argues that this focus is problematic and turns instead to silence, to ask a fundamental question: Can representation empower citizens from their silent positions? I approach the question in three parts. First, I offer a new conceptualisation of silence, arguing that silence is best understood as the site of a potential or actual presence. Second, I use criteria of domination and displaced involvement to assess attempts to enfranchise silence within the transmission-belt model of representation. Third, I critically engage and strengthen constructivist views of representation by developing these criteria to assess the legitimacy of claims to represent – speak about and for – silent constituencies, namely the claim to represent an (alleged) silent majority.

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