Theories of Political Representation

Course content

While political theorists have long debated about whether democracy should be representative or direct, the notion that “representation is democracy” (Plotke 1997) has gained increasing ground. But who should be represented – majorities, minorities, future generations, animals? What does it mean for them to be “well represented”? Who should do the “representing” – elected actors, courts, lobbies, citizens? What conditions need to be met so that political representation legitimizes inequalities of decision-making power and authority? And do current challenges such as the climate crisis call for rethinking our practices and institutionalization of representation?

This seminar will provide students with an opportunity to engage with these and related questions in depth by introducing contemporary political theory debates on political representation. Our readings and discussions will particularly focus on the multifaceted concept of political representation and on the democratic legitimacy and institutionalization of political representation, and will provide theoretical tools that can serve to make sense of and critically assess certain aspects of current political debates, institutions, and practices.


Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political Science, UCPH

  • MSc in Political Science
  • MSc in Social Science
  • MSc in Security Risk Management
  • Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH 

  • Master Programme in Social Data Science
  • Bachelor and Master Programmes in Sociology
  • Master programme in Global Development


The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad
  • Credit students from Danish Universities
  • Open University students
Learning outcome


This seminar will provide students with the opportunity to gain an understanding of fundamental concepts and key debates of contemporary theories of political representation. The readings and discussions will particularly focus on normative debates about the forms and roles of representation in democratic systems, and about what makes certain practices of representation more or less democratic.


The objective of the seminar is that students develop their skills to read and discuss demanding theoretical texts; learn to identify and critically analyze concepts and arguments, in group and individually; and widen their experience of academic writing and presenting in political theory.


The objective of the seminar is to foster students’ ability to understand complex arguments and theories; to discuss them critically in clear and effective ways, both in oral and written form; and to bring these arguments and theories in relation with actual political practice and institutions. Students will also have opportunities to learn to develop sound critiques of arguments as well as their own arguments.

Seminar sessions: short lectures, discussions, student presentations, group exercises.

Preparation: guided self- or group-study to
- read carefully all the required readings in advance of each session;
- critically reflect on the required readings;
- prepare questions and critical points for class discussion;
- prepare and complete session-dependent exercises.

The following is a preliminary reading list. Other materials will be added before the beginning of the semester.

Brown, Mark B. “Survey Article: Citizen panels and the Concept of Representation.” Journal of Political Philosophy 14 (2): 203-225.

Celis, Karen and Sarah Childs. 2020. Feminist Democratic Representation. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Disch, Lisa. 2011. “Toward a Mobilization Conception of Democratic Representation.” American Political Science Review 105 (1): 100-114.

Dovi, Susanne. 2007. The Good Representative. Malden, Blackwell.

Kuyper, Jonathan. “Systemic Representation: Democracy, Deliberation, and Nonelectoral Representatives.” American Political Science Review 110 (2): 308–324.

Landemore, Hélène. 2020. Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century. Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Manin, Bernard. 1997. The Principles of Representative Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mansbridge, Jane. 2003. “Rethinking Representation.” American Political Science Review 97 (4): 515-528.

Mansbridge, Jane. 2011. “Clarifying the Concept of Representation.” American Political Science Review 105 (3): 621-630.

Mansbridge, Jane. 2015. “Should Workers Represent Workers?” Swiss Political Science Review 21 (2): 261-270.

Montanaro, Laura. 2017. Who Elected Oxfam? A Democratic Defense of Self-Appointed Representatives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Phillips, Anne. 1995. The Politics of Presence. New York: Clarendon.

Pitkin, Hannah F. 1967. The Concept of Representation. Berkeley, University of California Press.

Pitkin, Hannah F. 2004. “Representation and Democracy: Uneasy Alliance.” Scandinavian Political Studies 27 (3): 335-342.

Plotke, David. 1997. “Representation is Democracy.” Constellations 4 (1): 19-34.

Rehfeld, Andrew. 2018. “On Representing.” Journal of Political Philosophy 26 (2): 216-239.

Rubenstein, Jennifer C. “The Misuse of Power, Not Bad Representation: Why It Is Beside the Point that No One Elected Oxfam.” Journal of Political Philosophy 22 (2): 204-230.

Saward, Michael. 2009. “Authorisation and Authenticity: Representation and the Unelected.” Journal of Political Philosophy 17 (1): 1-22.

Saward, Michael. 2010. The Representative Claim. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Saward, Michael. 2014. “Shape-Shifting Representation.” American Political Science Review 108 (4): 723-736.

Thompson, Dennis. 2010. “Representing future generations: political presentism and democratic trusteeship.” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 13 (1): 17-37.

Urbinati, Nadia. 2006. Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Urbinati, Nadia and Mark E. Warren. 2008. “The Concept of Representation in Contemporary Democratic Theory.” Annual Review of Political Science 11: 387-412.

Warren, Mark E. 2008. “Citizens Representatives.” In Warren, Mark E. and Hillary Pearse, Designing Deliberative Democracy: The British Columbia Citizens' Assembly. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 50-69.

Williams, Melissa. 1998. Voice, Trust, and Memory: Marginalized Groups and the Failings of Liberal Representation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Type of assessment details
Portfolio (2 assignments during semester)
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment
- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assessment

Criteria for exam assessment:


Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings

Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings

Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester


Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Social Data Science
  • Department of Sociology
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Alice el-Wakil   (14-6974716b6d366d74357f6973717448716e7b36737d366c73)
Saved on the 16-05-2023

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