3. Representation
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3 Representation If the general thrust of the continental critique of knowledge and philosophy that followed in the trajectory of Nietzsche and Heidegger1 may be identified, broadly, as a critique of representation (May, 1994, 1995), public administration has yet to fully examine the implications of this critique for the technologies and institutions of political representation. By and large, the insights of phenomenological, critical-theoretical, and poststructuralist thought have been conceived as strategies for improving the efficacy of representational media and for closing the gap between representation and its referent. We have employed epistemologically based critiques of representation in an effort to remedy the deficiencies of political and social givens and (mis)representations, grounding the case for improving the techniques of political representation in an epistemological critique of the possibility for representation itself. We do not, however, extricate ourselves from the problems of representation by undermining them at the “micro” level of scientific and administrative practice in order to remedy the “macro-objectivity” of representational politics. In other words, exposing or de-reifying the “ideological” content of any taken-for-granted objectivity (such as a fact, instrument, proposition , or identity) does not perforce serve to make representational politics itself more objectively representative or inclusive. Indeed, we are confronted with a paradox in the contemporary social world: if the effects of “inclusion ” on our system of political representation are examined, we find, as Lowi (1969) was perhaps among the first to note, that faith in the overall political system actually seems to have declined as participation and inclusion have increased, that is, as the terms of representation (the predicates that define the People) have expanded and as more members of the polity “count” as part of “the People.” It would appear, then, to be untrue that representativeness or correspondence between government as representa- 44 / Chapter 3 tion (representative) and the People as the object of representation is at the heart of the contemporary legitimacy crisis of government. The tactic proposed here is to conceive of the contemporary legitimacy crisis as a problem of the People, as a problem generated by a particular formulation of the Political. In my view, this is what is entailed in shifting from an epistemological to an ontological inquiry. It is a tactical approach that attempts to understand the logic of political representation—the very idea of representation itself—more thoroughly. What logic is put to work in the invocation of the People? What objects and relationships are posited ? On what objective basis (in the sense of object as both thing and purpose ) are authoritative claims to speak based? How are we to be-together in the world of representation? This set of questions raises the issue of the status of subject and object of representation and proposes the thesis that the core problem of our contemporary moment is the historical exhaustion of particular conceptualizations, technologies, and practices of inclusion rather than the persistence of political, economic, and social exclusion (Sørensen & Torfing, 2005). In preparing the way to consider these questions, this chapter proceeds in three main sections, moving from the highly abstract to the more concrete . The first part considers the range of thought in public administration that has considered the question of representation. We will examine the problem of representative bureaucracy, critical enterprises that challenge the givenness of everyday representations of the world, and arguments that have challenged political representation and the question of the People. This discussion is distinct from the analysis of the previous chapter , which focused on the general structure of the field in order to demonstrate that virtually all of public administration’s discourse took place below the bar of the People. Here, I will consider how the field has taken up the question of representation in order to better situate this analysis and its own formulation of representation. This begins in earnest in the second section with a recounting of Richard Rorty’s (1979) outline of representation as a problem of epistemology as it emerged in modern philosophical thought, in particular in the work of Descartes (White, 1999). I employ this account to shift to a description of a general theory of representation in order to propose a framework within which both political and epistemological representation might be conceived as, most basically, a relationship of model and copy. This is an outline of representation at its most formal, abstract Representation / 45 level. Within this framework, I draw from the work of philosophers Gilles Deleuze and...


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Subject Headings

  • Legitimacy of governments -- United States -- Public opinion.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 2001-2009.
  • Political leadership -- United States -- Public opinion.
  • Public opinion -- United States.
  • Public administration -- United States -- Public opinion.
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