Misrepresenting Diversity? How personal identities clash with ethnic pigeonholing in politics


Ideal democracies should accommodate the full diversity of their citizenries. The follow-up assumption is that elected representatives should mirror the ethnic make-up of the population: if there are enough “German-Turks” in the Bundestag, the Turkish minority is thought to be properly represented. But in fact, it is wrong to assume that citizens share interests and worldviews because their parents were born in the same country. Top-down ethnic pigeonholing of citizens and politicians distorts the enormous social diversity within groups and may thus create much less democratic enfranchisement than we would hope.

Misrepresenting Diversity? provides a bottom-up analysis of the mechanisms that drive representation in ethnically diverse societies. It breaks with scholarly and political practice by empirically investigating how citizens and politicians themselves experience diversity in politics and fill it with life. It reverses the usual telescope: instead of assuming that we can read people’s identities from their birth certificates, it researches how and with whom politicians and citizens identify, and how they give meaning to their backgrounds.

The project examines four sources of variation to understand representational politics: personal experiences with minority identity, migration histories, political party ideologies, and the way identity politics is encouraged or discouraged by national integration regimes. It studies three West-European immigration countries: France, Germany and the Netherlands, which all hold elections in 2017. This allows tracing representation for one full election cycle. Breaking the qualitative-quantitative divide, I apply an original methods-combination to uncover systematic patterns while appreciating case-specific idiosyncrasies.

This project will generate a new, empirically grounded theory of political representation and identity. It is the first study to compare minority citizens and politicians’ expectations and assessments of representation. The greater the gap, the lower the quality of a democracy. Understanding how political representation actually works for minorities is therefore indispensable for its viability.


Scientific article

  • LM Mugge, C Montoya, A Emejulu, L Weldon(2018): Intersectionality and the Politics of Knowledge European Journal of Politics & Gender pp. 17 - 36
  • K Celis, I Engeli, S Childs, P Ahrens, LM Mugge(2018): Contemporary crises in European politics: gender equality+ under threat European Journal of Politics and Gender pp. 301 - 306
  • I Engeli, E Evans, K Celis, LM Mugge, S Childs, E Ahrens(2018): Politics and gender: rocking political science and creating new horizons European Journal of Politics & Gender pp. 3 - 16


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. L.M. Mügge

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen, Politicologie

Team members

Dr. L.M. Mügge


14/12/2017 to 31/08/2022