The ascendancy of proportional representation as the electoral system of choice, and pervasive concerns with the demographic representativeness of parliaments, both testify to the importance that is attached to ‘descriptive’ or ‘microcosmic’ representation in politics, despite persistent doubts about its desirability. This paper makes three points. First, representation as representativeness presupposes the existence of stable and meaningful social or political collectivities, which can be reflected in the composition of parliament, and this condition is undermined by the general trend towards individualization, which can be observed throughout Western Europe. Second, this trend necessitates a conceptualization of political representation not as a state, but as a dynamic relationship between the citizen and the representative. This relationship can be characterized both by its direction (from below or from above), and by the moment at which popular control is exercised (before or after the representative's period in office). Third, it is argued that both growing uncertainty about citizen preferences and the transformation of political parties into para-statal agencies push towards representation from above; and that both growing unpredictability of the political agenda and European integration push towards ex-post popular control. These developments call for greater attention to mechanisms of accountability in representative democracies.
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