Towards a Post-Representational Politics? The politics of participation in a post-Brexit world

Does participatory democracy offer an alternative?

Is representative democracy in a temporary or permanent crisis? And does ‘participatory democracy’ offer an alternative? The rise of Trump in the US, the Brexit vote in the UK and the emergence of anti-immigration ‘people’s parties’ on the continent of Europe, have for many pointed to a structural disconnect between politics and people in the heartlands of the birthplaces of representative democracy. A decade ago, the same questions were being posed, however, by theorists of social movements and civil society. In 2005, I wrote a paper with almost the same title as this, Towards a Post Representational Politics? Participation in the 21st Century. Re-reading it, I realized that it was written at the time of a politicised anti-globalization but internationalist impetus and a shift ‘from above’ towards ‘participatory governance’ as an adjunct to representative democracy. Iconic global eruptions against neoliberal globalization, from Seattle to Occupy; a shift from audiences to participants in theatre, television and the radio; the horizontal communication of social media, suggested to me that a ‘participatory turn’ in politics had begun. It was always complex. And participation was never a simplistic ‘good’. Rather, it had to be constructed through experimentation to bring out its democratising potential. Today, however, we have vociferous and effective anti-globalization voices mobilized behind a distinct set of propositions. Unlike a decade ago, they are economically nationalist, anti-elitist and anti-stranger.  At the same time, the left of the Labour Party has called for a systemic change in the form of our democracy. This lecture will therefore ask, what is the future of a ‘post representational politics’? And how might participatory theory as well as experiments in participatory practice, guide us through these times of turbulence in the meaning of representative democracy, as what was once deemed an enduring political reference point.

This seminar series is organised and sponsored by the Sustainability Research Institute (School of Earth & Environment), the Bauman Institute (School of Sociology & Social Policy) and the Leeds Social Sciences Institute, University of Leeds.

For further information, please contact Dr Katy Wright ( or Dr Sebastien Nobert (