Lisa Jane Disch, "Making Constituencies: Representation as Mobilization in Mass Democracy" (U Chicago Press, 2021)


The common-sense way of thinking about what representatives should do in democracies tends to revolve around the concept of responsiveness: representatives should respond to the interests and demands of their constituents. However, this account of representation does not tell us much about how citizens form preferences. If political representatives and other actors have the ability to shape the interests and preferences of actors, this raises the specters of manipulation, voter incompetence, and false consciousness. All of these concepts question whether citizens have the capacity to form accurate beliefs about their own interests and to judge whether or not politicians are serving them.

In her new book Making Constituencies: Representation as Mobilization in Mass Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2021), my guest Lisa Disch argues that concerns about manipulation and voter competence are overwrought because they are grounded in a mistaken understanding of how representation works in democracies. Building on the “constructivist turn” in representation, Disch argues that the starting point of theorizing about how representation should work in democracies should be on the processes through which representatives of all kinds – from elected politicians to media outlets and social movements – constitute the very groups that they claim to speak for. Rather than asking how we can make politicians respond to the interests of voters, Disch argues that we should be asking how political actors, parties, and movements can mobilize constituencies for projects of social change.

Lisa Disch is Professor of Political Science and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.

Geoffrey Gordon is a PhD candidate in comparative politics at the University of Virginia. Follow him on Twitter: @geofflgordon.

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Geoffrey Gordon

Geoffrey Gordon holds a PhD in political science. Follow him on Twitter: @geofflgordon.
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