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Keywords:

  • gender;
  • class;
  • social identity;
  • political representation

This article develops a critique of the ‘economistic’ approach to understanding social bias in parliamentary representation. It asks why it is so difficult to reduce social bias and achieve change towards a more demographically representative parliament. It argues that what is needed to understand political representation and social identity is a theory that does not polarise subjectivity and social structure in the way the economistic approach polarises ‘supply’ and ‘demand’. The article proposes that paired concepts of ‘habitus’ and ‘field’ provide tools that enable an understanding of the relationship between the ‘general social field’, structured as it is by divisions of social class, sex/gender and ‘race’/ethnicity, and the ‘habitus’ and ‘strategies’ of actors competing to enter one of the major fields of power, in this case, the field of politics, recognising that these two levels are mediated in their interconnections by the specific form taken by the British political system. The research is based on extended autobiographical interviews with male and female members of the British parliament. The article focuses on class, the ‘difference’ that has been sidelined in feminist debates on the politics of difference, and also on sex/gender in the form of masculine identity. The article suggests that remedies are needed at each of the three levels of field, system and habitus if parliamentary politics is to be opened up to a wider demographic base, and in so doing, to move towards political justice.