The Representative's Body and the Logics of Representation

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 30 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Paula DIEHL, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany
The physical bodies of representatives are involved in multiple symbolic processes that contribute to the way we conceive, think about, and imagine democracy. I will focus on two of these processes: the neutral representation of political institutions and the representation of particular groups (descriptive representation).

In democracy, the power does not belong to the representatives but to the people. In this sense, the representation of political institutions is embedded in a neutral frame, symbolizing the people as a whole. For this reason, the symbolic representation of political institutions requires neutrality to be performed by the representatives and by their bodies. But, at the same time, the body always performs identity even if the actor does not want to. This process is closely linked to the concept of descriptive representation, in which the representative mirrors the identity of represented. If in the first case the body is required to symbolize neutrality, for descriptive representation the crucial element to legitimate the role of the representative is the particularity of the body.

Yet there is an intrinsic contradiction between the neutralization of the physical body in the representation of institutions and the identification with representatives’ physical appearance connected to their race, gender, class, etc. that occurs with descriptive representation. Representatives have to take both forms of representation into account, particularly when they are recognized as belonging to a minority or to subaltern groups. In this case, representatives have to carefully balance their body performances in order to avoid being perceived as representing only one minority. Barack Obama and Angela Merkel provide two examples of the strategic negotiation between these two levels of symbolism and serve as the empirical material that I scrutinize in this paper.