An anthropology of MPs – their work, pressures and coping strategies

Parliaments and political parties
Online event

An anthropology of MPs – their work, pressures and coping strategies

13 October 2020
11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Online event

Most scholarship and policy work on understanding parliaments focuses either on parliaments as systems or on the MPs within them as individuals. Anthropological analysis provides insight into the missing links – relationships and processes of interaction – thereby helping to explain what goes on between MPs (and others) in their everyday political work.

In this session, Emma Crewe provided a theory of MPs’ work that aimed to throw light on political relationships. MPs’ work entails endlessly shapeshifting, adjusting to different audiences and pressures, so they have to rely on shared processes (riffs, rhythms and rituals) to create a sense of continuity and stability. To understand MPs’ work, and to assist them in strengthening their capacity to deepen democracy, she argued we should give attention to these riffs, rhythms and rituals and how they impact on relationships within our political worlds.

Key questions of exploration:

  • How can we deal with MPs’ diversity of needs, pressures and challenges?
  • How much do cultural and political differences in each place create different kinds of relationships between MPs and others?
  • How can relationships between MPs, but also with the media, civil society, constituents and others, contribute to a deeper democracy in specific places?

Emma Crewe is a Research Professor at SOAS and a Research Supervisor at the University of Hertfordshire. She has worked in international development since the 1980s as a social scientist, policy adviser, manager and trustee/chair in international NGOs. Her ethnographic research into organisations focuses on parliaments in the UK, Eastern Africa and South Asia and she has advised the UK Parliament on research, management and evaluation, working with and advising the House of Commons on key issues and reports. Her forthcoming book (“An Anthropology of Parliaments”, Routledge) offers a review of what anthropologists have written so far about these institutions since the 1980s and examines how MPs behave in parliament.

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