A political philosopher dissects the duties and dilemmas of the unelected spokesperson, from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Greta Thunberg.
Political representation is typically assumed to be the purview of formal institutions and elected officials. But many of the people who represent us are not senators or city councilors—think of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malala Yousafzai or even a neighbor who speaks up at a school board meeting. Informal political representatives are in fact ubiquitous, often powerful, and some bear enormous responsibility. In Speaking for Others, political philosopher Wendy Salkin develops the first systematic conceptual and moral analysis of informal political representation.
Salkin argues that informal representation can be a political lifeline, particularly for oppressed and marginalized groups that are denied representation in formal political institutions. Yet informal political representatives exert outsized influence over the ways these groups’ interests are understood by the public, without the represented having much recourse to hold them accountable. And many informal political representatives are selected not by the groups they represent but by outsiders, sticking these groups with representatives they would not choose but cannot shake. The role of informal political representatives is therefore fraught with moral questions. What exactly are their duties and to whom are they owed? Should they be members of the groups they represent? When is informal representation permissible and when is it best avoided?
Informal political representation is taking place all around us. In fact, you yourself may be an informal political representative without knowing it. Speaking for Others explores the tensions central to this pervasive yet underexamined practice, bringing light to both its perils and its promise.
A very impressive achievement. Salkin has opened up exciting new territory for investigation and will have to be cited in all future work about informal political representation.
When we seek justice, freedom, or equality, we rely on others to speak for us. This original study is about the benefits, dangers, and ethics of informal political representation. The combination of conceptual analysis with cross-disciplinary insight, and the ethical prescriptions it provides, makes it a must-read for political theorists as well as everyone represented by others and representing others.
A thorough and carefully crafted investigation of an original and intriguing topic. Salkin identifies a consequential yet undertheorized social role, the informal political representative, that is ripe for more philosophical attention, and she works out many of the central conceptual and normative questions that it raises. Her analysis deserves to be influential, and I expect that it will be.
Original and compelling. Speaking for Others is likely to have a profound impact in a range of theoretical, as well as real-world contexts. I strongly recommend it to philosophers, legal theorists, and political scientists.
Wendy Salkin gets it. Informal political representation occurs every day in all of our lives but has never been dissected this carefully or understood this deeply. What are our obligations to those whom we informally represent? Can we have such obligations even when we do not even realize that we are representing others (we're 'unwitting') or have never asked to be a representative and do not want to be one (we're 'unwilling')? What are the obligations of the audiences that confer the status of informal political representative? Salkin’s brilliant analysis of these questions and their implications will guide our thinking about them for a long time.
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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