The Symbolic Value of Descriptive Representation: The case of female representation
Title: The Symbolic Value of Descriptive Representation: The case of female representation
Author: ESPÍRITO-SANTO, Ana
Series/Number: EUI PhD theses; Department of Political and Social Sciences
Most of the studies on political underrepresentation have tried to explain the factors that account for the underrepresentation of some groups in political power. The present research project focuses on the link between descriptive and symbolic representation and seeks to understand what consequences a more proportional political environment produces on the attitudes of both underrepresented and overrepresented groups towards the political system. Women remain among the least politically represented groups and therefore this project focuses on and analyses them in various political positions. Two dimensions of the relationship between citizens and politics are analysed: the level of political engagement and the evaluation of the political system. While there is a clear gender gap in the former, the same does not apply to the latter. This dissertation reaches three important achievements. The first one is to develop the first theoretical framework of the potential causal mechanisms that are likely to operate behind the impact that female politicians have on both women and men. The second is to show that men can indeed be positively influenced but mainly to clarify that the way they evaluate the political system is nearly the only way they are affected – their level of political engagement does not change. The third achievement is to show that, while most scholarship has been focusing on the topic political involvement, the presence of female politicians seems to be more connected to the way women evaluate the political system. This means that the ‘role model effect’ is not the main mechanism at work here. Instead, the idea that the presence of women is necessary to represent women’s interests and the fact that they are seen as bringing something new into the political world appear more influential factors. Altogether the signs of the impact of the presence of female politicians are modest.
Defence date: 13 December 2011; Examining Board: Professor Mark Franklin (EUI, Supervisor) Professor Joni Lovenduski (University of London, External Co-Supervisor) Professor Mona Lena Krook (Washington University in St. Louis) Professor Fabrizio Bernardi (EUI)
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