Gender, political representation and symbolic capital: how some women politicians succeed

Ceridwen Spark, John Cox, Jack Corbett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing women’s representation in national legislatures has become a priority for international organisations and aid donors in recent decades. Existing studies emphasise structural barriers, whether economic, cultural or religious, that inhibit women’s participation in the public sphere. Little attention is paid to women who defy these barriers to win election in contexts that are hostile to their presence. This article addresses this gap. Using a Bourdieusian approach, it shows how three senior women leaders from the Pacific Islands translate symbolic capital into political capital. For donors and would-be reformers, the lesson is that institutional interventions must be implemented in ways which allow women’s symbolic capital to be deployed as political capital, or which enhance women’s control of various forms of capital. This message is particularly relevant for those interested in the capacity of quotas and other temporary measures to translate descriptive representation into substantive developmental gains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1227-1245
Number of pages19
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Bourdieu
  • gender quotas
  • leadership
  • life history
  • Pacific Islands
  • Representation

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