Representing Diversity

I’ve recently stumbled on an interesting paper by Bob Goodin from BJPS 2004 (full text in draft form here):

Abstract: ‘Mirror representation’ or a ‘politics of presence’ presupposes relatively modest levels of diversity among those being represented. If the groups to be represented are too numerous, internally too heterogeneous or too cross-cutting, too many representatives will be required for the assembly to remain a deliberative one where ‘presence’ can have the effects its advocates desire. In those circumstances, what is being represented ought be conceptualized as the ‘sheer fact of diversity’ rather than ‘all the particularities of the diversity among us’. The appropriate response to that is legislative reticence.

Goodin starts the paper by affirming the difference between the Federalist and Anti-federalist perspective at the Philadelphia Convention: the Federalists “thought it unnecessary (as well as unwise) for the legislature to mirror the population at large”, whereas the Anti-federalists thought it desirable but ‘wildly impractical’ in so large a union. Goodin cites Hamilton’s rejoinder to the Anti-federalist argument (Federalist 35, para 9):

It is said to be necessary, that all classes of citizens should have some of their own number in the representative body, in order that their feelings and interests may be the better understood and attended to. But we have seen that this will never happen under any arrangement that leaves the votes of the people free. Where this is the case, the representative body, with too few exceptions to have any influence on the spirit of the government, will be composed of landholders, merchants, and men of the learned professions. But where is the danger that the interests and feelings of the different classes of citizens will not be understood or attended to by these three descriptions of men?

According to Goodin, the reason the Anti-federalists did not pursue their argument vigorously was because the resulting legislature would be so large that it would inhibit deliberation. Nevertheless there was a marked difference in desiderata between the two competing factions.

Goodin’s paper goes on to explore the problem of the size of the legislature based on ‘representing with mirrors’. His starting point is Anne Phillips’s Politics of Presence, which is concerned with the representation of particular ‘disadvantaged groups’ such as women and ethnic minorities: given that the composition of legislatures fails to mirror these groups in the electorate, then their interests will fail to be respected (the implicit assumption being that a legislature composed of white males will adequately reflect the interests of all white males). The emphasis on specific ‘disadvantaged groups’ means that Goodin fails to consider sortition as the solution.

I haven’t got round to reading Politics of Presence yet, but notice that Phillips does consider sortition in the introduction. Is she sympathetic to it or is the problem that sortition is not sufficiently radical to meet the agenda of those seeking to improve the lot of whatever disadvantaged group happens to be the focus of activist interest at any particular time (proletarians, women, ethnic minorities, gays/lesbians etc etc)? Can anyone enlighten us further on this?