Politics & Gender

Critical Perspectives on Gender and Politics

Hanna Pitkin's “Concept of Representation” Revisited

Gender, Race, Ethnicity, and Political Representation in the United States

Michael D. Minta

University of Missouri–Columbia

In the Concept of Representation, Hanna Pitkin (1967) argues that legislators should be judged by their actions—substantive representation—and not just their closeness in characteristics to their constituents—descriptive representation. Pitkin's theoretical framework is the standard that political representation scholars use when evaluating whether the presence of women or racial and ethnic minorities in legislatures results in greater responsiveness to female or minority interests. Do female legislators better represent the interests of women in U.S. congressional committee hearings on domestic violence than male legislators? Are minority legislators more active in advocating for minority interests than white legislators in hearings relating to racial profiling? Although Pitkin is skeptical that descriptive representatives alone improve legislators' responsiveness to the interests of constituents that they descriptively represent, extensive normative and empirical analyses focusing on race and gender have demonstrated that it is not a question of whether descriptive representation matters, but rather when and how it matters to improving substantive representation (see, for example, Bratton 2005; Canon 1999; Casellas 2011; Gamble 2007; Gay 2001; Grose 2011; Haynie 2001; Lublin 1997; Mansbridge 1999; Tate 2003; Thomas 1994; Whitby 1997).