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Voice, Trust, and Memory: Marginalized Groups and the Failings of Liberal Representation [Paperback]

Melissa S. Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 13 2000

Does fair political representation for historically disadvantaged groups require their presence in legislative bodies? The intuition that women are best represented by women, and African-Americans by other African-Americans, has deep historical roots. Yet the conception of fair representation that prevails in American political culture and jurisprudence--what Melissa Williams calls "liberal representation"--concludes that the social identity of legislative representatives does not bear on their quality as representatives. Liberal representation's slogan, "one person, one vote," concludes that the outcome of the electoral and legislative process is fair, whatever it happens to be, so long as no voter is systematically excluded. Challenging this notion, Williams maintains that fair representation is powerfully affected by the identity of legislators and whether some of them are actually members of the historically marginalized groups that are most in need of protection in our society.

Williams argues first that the distinctive voice of these groups should be audible within the legislative process. Second, she holds that the self-representation of these groups is necessary to sustain their trust in democratic institutions. The memory of state-sponsored discrimination against these groups, together with ongoing patterns of inequality along group lines, provides both a reason to recognize group claims and a way of distinguishing stronger from weaker claims. The book closes by proposing institutions that can secure fair representation for marginalized groups without compromising principles of democratic freedom and equality.


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Winner of the 1999 Best First Book in Political Philosophy Award, Foundations of Political Theory Section of the American Political Science Association

"This book is a stimulating and provocative contribution to the literature about the representation of marginalized groups, but it is more than this. . . . Questions about the representations of groups go to the heart of theories of representation. . . . It is an achievement to have cast these relationships in such a clear and revealing light."--Charles R. Beitz, American Political Science Review

"Substantial. . . . The Supreme Court has taken a strong line against the use of race to shape electoral districts. Williams has some powerful arguments against their recent decisions. . . . Williams, to her credit, does not rest at simply making the argument in favor of like representing like. . . . She takes on the mind-boggling task of reviewing a host of schemes."--Nathan Glazer, Times Literary Supplement

"Voice, Trust, and Memory is an important and original contribution to contemporary debates on democracy."--Dominique Leydet, Canadian Journal of Political Science

"An extremely well-written, clear, and well-organized exploration of an alternative to liberal representation. . . . It is an important book for scholars interested in issues of political representation."--Pamela Paxton, Contemporary Sociology

"An excellent piece of scholarship. . . . Williams's argument skillfully weaves together the literatures of liberal political theory, feminist theory, critical race theory, and the new institutionalism."--Sally J. Kenney, Women & Politics

About the Author

Melissa S. Williams is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Voice, Trust, and Memory was a co-winner of the Best First Book award from the Foundations of Political Theory section of the American Political Science Association. The award citation reads: "Voice, Trust, and Memory is a powerful and well-argued exploration of the relevance of identity to democratic representation. Williams's approach to the constitution of identity and the nature of democracy and representation is rigorous and thorough. Her analysis is sophisticated. She treats with subtlety and precision issues that too often are reduced and simplified by political discourse. In particular, Williams argues that members of historically disadvantaged groups are best represented by other members of those groups. Such members can bring the memory of discriminatory experience to bear on the expression of the group's preferences, and thereby give such groups a more genuine voice. The absence of embodied, experiential memory, characteristic of representation in liberal democracy, often engenders mistrust in the democratic process on the part of such groups; such a lack of trust often compromises the ideals and the efficacy of democracy. Williams's reconceptualization of representation is designed to help foster the trust that is necessary to support democratic institutions, and that is also desirable by the lights of democratic principles. Her focus on women and African-Americans to construct these arguments attends to the specific problems these groups face in liberal democracy. She makes substantive contributions to the theoretical and political literature on these specific groups. She also raises broader questions that transcend the particular boundaries of these two groups, and that apply to any group-based identity within liberal democracy, indeed, to the very nature of political representation itself. All in all, this is a deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking consideration of issues that lie at the heart of contemporary political and theoretical debate."
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5.0 out of 5 stars Minority representation July 16 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This book presents the most sophisticated and fully developed theory of minority representation available in contemporary political theory. Williams provides a powerful argument in favour of group representation for minorities: what Anne Phillips has called 'the politics of presence'. The argument is based on carefully constructed analytic distinctions, and while these are occasionally suspect (particularly the objective vs. subjective notion of group membership), the overall thesis is very well defended. Williams has not received the same degree of attention and praise as two other theorists working in this area, Iris Marion Young and Anne Phillips, which is unfortunate. This book is just as comprehensive and tightly argued as anything produced by Young and Phillips, if not more so. The book will be invaluable to anyone interested in contemporary democratic theory (particularly deliberative democracy) or theories minority inclusion. You should be aware that the book is directed primarily to an academic audience.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Minority representation July 16 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book presents the most sophisticated and fully developed theory of minority representation available in contemporary political theory. Williams provides a powerful argument in favour of group representation for minorities: what Anne Phillips has called 'the politics of presence'. The argument is based on carefully constructed analytic distinctions, and while these are occasionally suspect (particularly the objective vs. subjective notion of group membership), the overall thesis is very well defended. Williams has not received the same degree of attention and praise as two other theorists working in this area, Iris Marion Young and Anne Phillips, which is unfortunate. This book is just as comprehensive and tightly argued as anything produced by Young and Phillips, if not more so. The book will be invaluable to anyone interested in contemporary democratic theory (particularly deliberative democracy) or theories minority inclusion. You should be aware that the book is directed primarily to an academic audience.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Award winner: 1999 best first book in political theory Oct. 31 2000
By Jacob T. Levy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Voice, Trust, and Memory was a co-winner of the Best First Book award from the Foundations of Political Theory section of the American Political Science Association. The award citation reads: "Voice, Trust, and Memory is a powerful and well-argued exploration of the relevance of identity to democratic representation. Williams's approach to the constitution of identity and the nature of democracy and representation is rigorous and thorough. Her analysis is sophisticated. She treats with subtlety and precision issues that too often are reduced and simplified by political discourse. In particular, Williams argues that members of historically disadvantaged groups are best represented by other members of those groups. Such members can bring the memory of discriminatory experience to bear on the expression of the group's preferences, and thereby give such groups a more genuine voice. The absence of embodied, experiential memory, characteristic of representation in liberal democracy, often engenders mistrust in the democratic process on the part of such groups; such a lack of trust often compromises the ideals and the efficacy of democracy. Williams's reconceptualization of representation is designed to help foster the trust that is necessary to support democratic institutions, and that is also desirable by the lights of democratic principles. Her focus on women and African-Americans to construct these arguments attends to the specific problems these groups face in liberal democracy. She makes substantive contributions to the theoretical and political literature on these specific groups. She also raises broader questions that transcend the particular boundaries of these two groups, and that apply to any group-based identity within liberal democracy, indeed, to the very nature of political representation itself. All in all, this is a deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking consideration of issues that lie at the heart of contemporary political and theoretical debate."
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