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Theorising about the Political Representation of Disability: Reappreciating the Politics of Ideas, Presence and Place

Ruth Candlish
Thursday, November 17, 2022, 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm

This is a POLEMO member section seminar for CEU BA, MA, and PhD students to present and receive feedback on their work. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your research with us at


Abstract | This paper develops a comprehensive theoretical approach for studying the political representation of disability. While the last decade has seen the political (mis)representation of disabled people abound, disability remains overlooked by representation theory. This paper reviews both classic and ‘new wave’ theories of political representation studies in relation to disability and assesses how renewed interest in substantive representation can help us study the political (mis)representation of disability. Combining the well-established constructivist turn and the emergent institutionalist school in political representation studies, it is argued that the study of disabled political representation requires a thick contextual framework, rather than a “thin” understanding of representation focused on the actions of a handful of descriptive representatives, one that accounts for the political dimensions of ideas, presence, and place. This appraisal is grounded in a reappreciation and adaption of Philip’s original theoretical framework (1995) – where she emphasises that the politics of presence and the politics of ideas are both ‘necessary for representation’. To this I add the politics of place, to describe the embeddedness of social groups in institutions. The three-pillar model sets out a rethinking of existing theories to account for the politics of presence (and absence), the politics of (contested) ideas, as well as theoretical extension by introducing this more novel pillar (place). This schema not only enables us to examine the political representation of disabled people but represents a rethinking in how representation theories may account for other social groups. 

Bio | Ruth is a 5th year doctoral student in the CEU DSPS Public Policy track, her research focuses on the political representation of disabled people. She conducts cross-national empirical research in the UK, Scottish, Canadian and New Zealand Parliaments. Before her doctoral studies, she worked as a legislative and union officer in several parliaments, specialising in equality and disability matters.


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Meeting ID: 942 5206 2740
Passcode: 451148