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Faculty Research Working Paper Series
Jane Mansbridge
Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values
phone: (617)495-9343
fax: (617)496-9053
Recursive Representation in the Representative System
Mansbridge, Jane. "Recursive Representation in the Representative System." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP17-045, September 2017.
In recursive representation both representatives and constituents take in what the other is saying, update, revise, and respond on the basis of their own experience, then listen to the others’ response to their responses and respond to that accordingly. Recursive representation should replace or at least supplement the traditional norm of “two-way communication” as a component of the larger ideal of good political representation across the representative system. The ideal is aspirational (“regulative”) and may in many actual instances have prohibitive costs, but it can serve as a standard toward which to aspire. Currently the most active and affluent donors in democracies have access to recursive representation even at the national scale, as do some constituents at local levels. Even on the scale of a large nation-state, some currently available mechanisms make it feasible to approach this ideal more fully with average and even relatively marginal constituents. Recursive representation serves as an aspirational ideal in the arenas of administrative and societal representation as well as the arena of legislative/electoral representation.



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