Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Claims of Misrepresentation: A Comparison of Germany and Brazil

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Abstract:  The system of representative democracy is under considerable strain. Its institutions are struggling to maintain legitimacy, and its elected representatives are failing to keep their monopoly on (formal) political representation. An emerging multitude of (new) claim makers contests the authority of elected representatives as well as the functioning of the existing system of representative democracy by alleging misrepresentation. In this article, we identify a significant shortcoming in Saward’s claims-making approach; specifically, we argue that it offers little direction in addressing misrepresentation. We distinguish between claims of representation and claims of misrepresentation, and show how the latter can fulfill one, two or all three of the following functions: (1) they appeal to an enemy/antagonist (strategy), (2) identify causes of misrepresentation related to policies, politics, and polity (persuasion), and (3) claim to create a new linkage to “the people”, sometimes present themselves as new representatives (reframing). To test this proposed framework, we compare claims of misrepresentation in Brazil made by civil society groups (before and during the presidential impeachment between 2014 and 2016) and in Germany (focusing on the parliamentarians of the Alternative for Germany during the first six months of mandate). Our results suggest that claims of misrepresentation are not intrinsically democratic or undemocratic, but are instead ambiguous, have different manifestations and disparate impacts on the representative system. Our article contributes to the conceptual development of the claims approach and to further understanding several critical and current challenges to representative democracy.

Keywords:  Brazil; democracy; Germany; misrepresentation; populism; representation; representative claims



© Petra Guasti, Debora Rezende de Almeida. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.