Preferable descriptive representatives: Will just any woman, black, or latino do?

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288 Scopus citations


A body of theoretical literature has developed that explains why historically disadvantaged groups should be represented by members of those groups. Such representatives are commonly referred to as descriptive representatives. This literature has also endorsed various institutional reforms aimed at increasing the number of descriptive representatives, e.g., party list quotas, racial districting, and proportional representation. However, this literature does not articulate criteria that should guide the selection of descriptive representatives to serve in these institutional positions. Indeed, some thinkers claim that such criteria cannot, or at least should not, be articulated. I argue that some descriptive representatives are preferable to others and that criteria for selecting preferable descriptive representatives can, and should, be articulated. Moreover, I recommend one such criterion: Preferable descriptive representatives possess strong mutual relationships with dispossessed subgroups of historically disadvantaged groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-743
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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