The 'Good' Parliament and the Feminist Critical Actor
How do you reform parliaments and legislatures to make them more friendly to women and to members of minority groups? In short: what makes a ‘Good’ Parliament? The Chrystal Macmillan Lecture Spring 2017, is delivered by Professor Sarah Childs, who spent a year seconded to the UK House of Commons in 2015/16 to address these questions. The result is the highly influential Good Parliament Report.
Working as a feminist critical actor, Sarah sought to first ripen, and then introduce diversity sensitive norms and practices in this most masculinized of political institutions. Exposing and documenting the ways in which everyday rules and norms in the Commons reinforced existing inequalities and insensitivities was not difficult; producing recommendations that would redress these - and that would also have a good chance of garnering institutional support, official and political - was less straightforward. It required consideration of norms as well as practical factors.
Identifying responsible actors and working out what rules and structures would help to implement reforms proved especially tricky politically. This is where being an embedded researcher was crucial, particularly in terms of learning how the institution worked and using that institutional knowledge; and in deploying friendships, frequently feminist ones on both the political and institutional sides, to overcome resistance and to initiate diversity sensitive reforms.
Sarah Childs is Professor of Politics and Gender at the University of Bristol, UK. Her research expertise centres on representation theory, and gender and political parties and parliaments. Key books include Deeds and Words (edited with Rosie Campbell), and Sex, Gender and the Conservative Party: From Iron Lady to Kitten Heels’, (with Paul Webb).
In 2015 Sarah was awarded the PSA Special Recognition Award for her work on women’s substantive representation and for her efforts to feminize UK politics. In 2009-10 Sarah was the gender Special Adviser to the UK Parliament’s ‘Speaker’ Conference’ on representation and in 2014 the Special Adviser to the All Party Parliamentary Group, Women in Parliament Inquiry. She is currently adviser to the new Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, chaired by the Speaker of the House, and set up following her secondment.
- Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender at the University of Bristol