The Symbolic Representation of Gender : A Discursive Approach book cover
1st Edition

The Symbolic Representation of Gender
A Discursive Approach

ISBN 9781138274754
Published October 26, 2016 by Routledge
224 Pages

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Book Description

What is symbolic representation? Since Hanna Pitkin’s seminal The Concept of Representation, the symbolic has been the least studied dimension of political representation. Innovatively adopting a discursive approach, this book - the first full-length treatment of symbolic representation - focuses on gender issues to tackle important questions such as: What are women and men symbols of, and how is gender constructed in policy discourse? It studies what functions symbolic representation fulfils in the construction of gender, what social roles get legitimized in policy discourse, and how this affects power constellations, ultimately revealing much about the relation between symbolic, descriptive, and substantive representation. Emanuela Lombardo and Petra Meier draw on theories of symbolic representation and gender, as well as rich primary material about political debates on labour and care issues, partnership and reproductive rights, gender violence, and quotas. Using this original data, the authors show that reconsidering symbolic representation from a discursive perspective makes explicit issues of (in)equality embedded within particular constructions, as well as their consequences for political representation and gender equality. This important exploration raises relevant new questions regarding the representation of gender that form valuable contributions to the fields of political science, political theory, sociology, and gender studies.

Table of Contents

Contents: The symbolic representation of gender: an introduction; Theorising symbolic representation; A discursive approach to symbolic representation; Symbolic representation and the construction of identity; Symbolic representation and legitimacy; Symbolic representation and political control; The relation between descriptive and symbolic representation; The relation between substantive and symbolic representation; Power at work in the symbolic representation of gender; Conclusions; Bibliography; Index.

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Emanuela Lombardo, PhD in Politics at the University of Reading (UK), is Lecturer at the Department of Political Science and Administration II of Madrid Complutense University (Spain). Her research interests concern gender equality policies and intersectionality, particularly in the European Union and Spain, political representation and gender, Europeanization of gender equality policies, and feminist political theory. Petra Meier is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Antwerp (Belgium) and Director of the Policy Research Centre on Equality Policies at the same university. Her major research interest is with the representation of gender and sexuality in politics and policies, the consequences of these representations and means to tackle inequalities stemming from them. She studies theories on representation, the normative foundations and consequences of electoral systems, gender quota, feminist approaches to public policies, gender equality policies, and, more recently, the challenges multi level settings and especially federal systems provide for such issues.


’Politics is packed with symbols, yet symbolic representation is little-explored. With surgical precision the book dissects the symbolic representation of gender through the discursive construction of women and men as political symbols. Empirically well illustrated, it builds a theory on symbolic representation and the functions it fulfils related to the construction of identity, legitimacy, and political control. A must read!’ Karen Celis, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium ’Integrating comparative European policy studies into a sophisticated account of symbolic representation, Lombardo and Meier demonstrate how states preserve male privilege even while adopting the language of gender balance and gender equality. This ground-breaking work illuminates the impressive explanatory potential of feminist political studies.’ Mary Hawkesworth, Rutgers University, USA