ISRF Mid-Career Fellow 2021
ISRF Mid-Career Fellow 2021
Elizabeth Evans is Reader in Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research explores the relationship between social movements, political parties and political representation, with a particular focus on disability and gender. Her work, framed by an intersectional theoretical approach, interrogates questions of power and political inequality. Her research has been funded by the ESRC and British Academy, and she was a Co-PI on a project exploring disability and barriers to elected office, funded by the Government Equalities Office. She has authored two monographs, co-edited one volume, and has published numerous articles in a wide range of journals including most recently in International Political Science Review, Politics & Gender, Political Studies and Party Politics. She is co-founding Editor, and currently Lead Editor, of the European Journal of Politics and Gender. She is also past convenor of the ECPR Standing Group on Gender and Politics, the European Conference on Politics and Gender, and the PSA’s Women and Politics Group.
Theoretical approaches to political representation typically distinguish between three dimensions: descriptive representation, the similarity between elected representatives and the represented in terms of their characteristics and backgrounds; substantive representation, the reflection of citizens’ interests and opinions in the preferences of decision-makers and in the outputs of the policy-making process; and, symbolic representation, the effects that representatives have on the electorate. These dimensions have been analysed empirically, specifically in relation to gender and/or ethnicity, which has developed scholarly knowledge and the public understanding of political representation. However, there have been very few studies of disability as it relates to political representation, either at the theoretical or empirical level. This project brings together interdisciplinary disability scholarship with political theory and political science, in order to rethink political representation.
This research develops theoretical and empirical approaches to political representation. First, the research adopts the social model of disability, a theoretical framework which focuses on how society disables people; here disability is understood as an oppressive social construct rather than a set of individual impairments. Bringing a disability lens to the study of the conceptual dimensions of political representation will help identify and interrogate epistemological ableism, the idealisation of able-bodiedness/able-mindedness. Second, the research will provide a case study analysis of a unique set of qualitative interviews I have undertaken with UK-based disabled activists and politicians, conducted as part of a commissioned Government-funded project into the barriers to elected office for disabled people. This empirical analysis will examine the impact of disabled politicians and question how disabled people’s interests and issues are framed; drawing upon disability studies scholarship will help reveal patterns of disablism, the practice of excluding or marginalising people based upon their impairments. The research will benefit scholars and those beyond academia interested in improving and enhancing the representation of disabled people.