Performing Identity: Descriptive and Symbolic Representation in New Zealand and the United Kingdom
Cook, Helena Mary
Date: 14 June 2013
University of Exeter
PhD in Politics
Previous studies of identity and representation fail to fully recognise the complexity of identity and its inherent relevance to representation. In addition, they insufficiently acknowledge the institutional factors which mediate the performance of identity in representation. This thesis moves beyond this existing research by more ...
Previous studies of identity and representation fail to fully recognise the complexity of identity and its inherent relevance to representation. In addition, they insufficiently acknowledge the institutional factors which mediate the performance of identity in representation. This thesis moves beyond this existing research by more critically analysing the relationship between identity and political representation through the lens of performative claim-making. Given that both representation and identity are concepts which have come to be understood as complex and multiply constructed, their interrelationship deserves a more critical and nuanced analysis. I argue that identity inherently shapes representative roles. Representation as a concept can be modelled as a series of claims to and understandings of representation. By applying Goffman’s interpretation of identity as performance, claims to representation are therefore a series of performative moves which evoke identity strategically and vary according to context and audience. Through the examples of the two case studies of New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the thesis explores the ways that MPs perform their identities in three distinct contexts: web biographies, maiden speeches and interviews. These allow for comparisons of contexts or ‘stages’ for performance of identity by MPs and shows how claim-making plays out in reality for MPs. I argue that performance of identity by MPs will vary depending on the method of selection of the MP, parliamentary norms and culture, and the audience. The potential for variation of performance due to contextual shifts requires an explicit consideration of the institutional factors which impact a representative’s performative role. Political space - its rules and regulations and its culture and norms – needs to be incorporated in more depth into studies of representation, claim-making and performance because these factors impact the extent to which MPs will engage with and perform identity within their representative roles. By investigating the ways in which MPs perform identity in different contexts and with different audiences, we can better understand the relationship between the two concepts of identity and political representation.
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