Recursive Representation in the Representative System

56 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2017 Last revised: 6 Dec 2017

See all articles by Jane Mansbridge

Jane Mansbridge

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: November 2017


In recursive representation both representatives and constituents take in what the other is saying, update, revise, and respond on the basis of their own experience, then listen to the others’ response to their responses and respond to that accordingly. Recursive representation should replace or at least supplement the traditional norm of “two-way communication” as a component of the larger ideal of good political representation across the representative system. The ideal is aspirational (“regulative”) and may in many actual instances have prohibitive costs, but it can serve as a standard toward which to aspire. Currently the most active and affluent donors in democracies have access to recursive representation even at the national scale, as do some constituents at local levels. Even on the scale of a large nation-state, some currently available mechanisms make it feasible to approach this ideal more fully with average and even relatively marginal constituents. Recursive representation serves as an aspirational ideal in the arenas of administrative and societal representation as well as the arena of legislative/electoral representation.

Keywords: political representation, recursive representation, administrative representation, societal, deliberation, democracy

Suggested Citation

Mansbridge, Jane, Recursive Representation in the Representative System (November 2017). HKS Working Paper No. RWP17-045 . Available at SSRN: or

Jane Mansbridge (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-9343 (Phone)
617-496-9053 (Fax)


Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics