Political Self-Reflection on Political Representation: Constituency Service As a Topic in Parliamentary Debates

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 30 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Isabel KUSCHE, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Denmark
Political representation and its crisis is a recurrent topic in the mass media and scholarly debate. Interestingly, there is not much research on whether and how this topic is addressed in the realm of politics itself. Yet, political communication encompasses such self-reflective operations that attempt to grasp what politics is about and what may be wrong with the relationship between politicians and voters. In the course of parliamentary debates, references are made to abstract concepts such as democracy and, admittedly, most of the time these references seem to be empty signifiers. However, there are also cases where politicians themselves address the question whether political representation is deficient, for example when arguing for or against more plebiscitary elements. In my paper I would like to focus on another example, which has widely been ignored by the scholarly debate so far, namely the relevance and status of constituency service. A comparative content analysis of parliamentary debates in Great Britain and Ireland in the latter case reveals a long-standing political debate about whether the level of constituency service in Ireland is an expression of true democracy or petty clientelism. In the British House of Commons, in contrast, self-reflection on constituency service is very rare. I argue that the notion of self-descriptions of social systems (here the political system), introduced by Niklas Luhmann, helps to understand this difference.