Talks by Wendy Salkin and David Plunkett

Wendy Salkin: "The Conscription of Political Representatives"

Abstract: Informal political representation, the phenomenon of speaking or acting on behalf of others outside of formal political contexts, has long played a crucial role in advancing the interests of groups, particularly the interests of marginalized and oppressed groups. Sometimes, those who emerge into the role of informal representative do so willingly (voluntary representatives). But often, people end up in the position of informal representative, either in their private lives or in more public political fora, over their own protests (unwilling representatives) or even without their knowledge (unwitting representatives). Few theories of informal political representation have been advanced, and none accommodates either unwitting or unwilling representatives, making these theories both underinclusive and distortive. The theory developed here, conscriptionism, accounts for both voluntary and conscripted representatives. The characteristic feature of representative conscription is that one is taken by an audience to be a representative, regardless of one’s desire to be or knowledge that one is so taken—call this "audience uptake". The phenomenon of being taken by an audience to represent a group is so common among the members of minoritized groups that it has become fodder for satirical news sites, including Reductress (“Aïsha Unceremoniously Elected Spokesperson for All Black Women”) and The Betoota Advocate (“Aboriginal Friend Asked to Speak on Behalf of 700,000 People in Passing Conversation”). Objecting to his conscription as an informal representative for black Americans, Ta-Nehisi Coates recently lamented, “I didn’t ask for a crown.” What makes it the case that one is a representative for a group is only that one is taken to be a representative for that group by an audience (audience uptake), regardless of whether one takes oneself to be so. This means that one can be a representative even if one is unaware one is so taken (unwitting) or loath to be so taken (unwilling). Conscriptionism better captures the phenomenon of informal representation than alternatives because it ranges over all cases in which an audience ascribes the statements or actions of one party (the representative) to another (the represented), and audience ascription is what makes political representation cohere as a concept. As such, conscriptionism provides more fertile conceptual grounds for building a coherent and comprehensive normative theory of informal representation—one that applies to all the representatives there are, not just all the representatives who see themselves as representatives.


David Plunkett: “Conceptual Truths, Evolution, and Authoritative Normativity”

Published May 25, 2018 9:32 AM - Last modified June 15, 2018 11:50 AM