The Arena of Ideas

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Uncertainty or indifference may lead to abstention, which under this model is also a clearly rational decision. Why participate if the benefit is uncertain or the available information regarding its effects is inconsistent? Applied to the British example, Liberal Democratic voters or those identifying with other smaller parties might have been expected to support the proposed reform, since the potential benefits to their party were more evident. Labour voters, on the other hand, might have been more indifferent to the proposal, since the potential costs or benefits to their party were much less clear.

Further, because levels of information regarding the proposed reform were low, and the campaign contained much misinformation, many citizens could reasonably be expected to abstain. Turnout in the referendum in fact might have been even lower than it was had it not been scheduled concurrently with local and regional elections in many parts of the country. A cognitive engagement model bears some similarity to rational choice in that voters require some information and knowledge about a proposal in order to come to a voting decision.

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On an issue such as electoral reform, engaged and politically knowledgeable citizens are likely to have sufficient information. But they also argue that disengagement or lack of knowledge, rather than leading to abstention, was more likely to lead to support of the status quo — in this instance meaning a NO vote on the AV proposal. There is considerable survey evidence in other studies of referendum voting, particularly on certain types of issues, that a combination of risk aversion and lack of information can easily prompt a NO vote rather than abstention LeDuc, We might add that this dynamic is frequently reinforced by the nature of modern media campaigns de Vreese, Attacking a proposal is a common campaign tactic, and opponents of a proposal do not necessarily have to make a coherent case against it.

In the case of the British AV referendum, the Prime Minister's very public support of the NO side communicated a strong message to Conservative voters. In many initiative and referendum campaigns, opinions will often be shaped by the cues provided by political parties, prominent opinion leaders, or groups and organizations engaged in the campaign. This type of knowledge is often sufficient. Voters do not need to know all of the details of a proposal in order to reach a decision. Decisions may be affected by opinions about the particular individuals or groups involved in a campaign rather than the substance of a proposal.

A government that calls a referendum may find that the vote becomes a test of its own un popularity rather than a vote on the substance of its proposal. Constitutional initiatives undertaken by unpopular governments often fail, partly for that reason, as did the Canadian Constitutional package LeDuc, , Conversely, a popular leader or a newly elected government may be better positioned to build support for an initiative.

The Blair government moved quickly following its election in to bring forward its devolution and local government reform proposals for submission to a popular vote. As noted earlier Section Campaigns and Direct Democracy , initiative and referendum campaigns are real campaigns, in which parties or groups seek to win votes rather than merely engage in an issue debate. In the British referendum campaign used as an example here, the two rival campaigns Yes to Fairer Votes and No to AV actively sought to communicate their messages to voters through the media and other sources and to motivate their potential supporters.

In a short and intense campaign, particularly on an issue with which citizens are relatively unfamiliar, such activity has an impact both on opinion formation and participation. As in an election campaign, getting one's message across and getting voters to the polls can matter a great deal. Referendums can differ considerably in levels of mobilization, but resources and organization clearly matter. But in much closer contests such as the Quebec sovereignty referendum or the Danish referendum on the Euro, mobilization, both cognitive and organizational, may be of critical importance in determining the outcome.

Conversely, the failure of one side or the other to effectively mobilize its potential supporters can also lead to an unexpected outcome, as in the case of the Irish referendum on the Nice treaty. Read full chapter. Employers' associations are formal organizations which specialize in the aggregation, definition, processing, and promotion in the political arena of the collective interests and goals of a distinct social class defined by its dominant position in the division of labor and its power to invest in market economies.

It is in this broader sense that it is used here. This has produced an unprecedented expansion of the power and influence of judges, especially in Civil Law countries where judges have traditionally kept a very low profile in public affairs. Basically this process has resulted from the combined effect of two major trends: on the one hand, an increased judicial activism in areas such as the control of governmental decisions and the protection and assertion of individual rights; on the other hand, the tendency among political decision makers to defer to the Courts of Justice the resolution of issues with a highly divisive and conflictive potential.

This second pattern has been a special cause for concern as it may imply a weakening of the legitimacy of representative institutions. If judicial adjudication and political decision making are perceived not as a dichotomy but as the two ends of a scale that would run from total majoritarianism to total government by judiciary what can be concluded is that most democratic countries seem to have experienced over the last two decades a relative swing toward the government by judiciary end of the scale Vallinder, Today, many share Price's basic ideas about a necessary principle to be accepted for fruitful political anthropology: that political activities and struggles are not confined to a narrow set of political arenas, but take place in all situations where people negotiate power.

Anthropologists thus seek to investigate what constitutes the political about the processes they study, but insist that politics, or the political, should not be treated as a separate category, but should be examined as connections between power relations, cultural forms and practices, and historicity. A striking change in political anthropology since the late s has been the gradual emergence of a thriving new anthropology of the modern state.

In some ways there is a clear overlap between Radcliffe-Brown's conspicuous suspicion of political philosophy in the Preface to African Political Systems and aspects of the last two or three decades' anthropology of the state.


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As noted earlier, Radcliffe-Brown dismissed the idea of the state as a myth of philosophers. In contrast to this, authors of the new literature on the state take for their basis that anthropologists must study states empirically and ethnographically and take the comparative study of the state seriously. But they agree that typically philosophers, social scientists, politicians, and citizens have provided, and continue to provide, the state with an unreal concreteness. Below the author outlines three features of this literature, before briefly mentioning a few examples of it.

In an important essay, Philip Abrams stressed long ago that too much academic work has reified the state , p. Through what imageries are states conceptualized, understood, and represented? The second important idea upon which the new literature rests has to do with the understanding of the complexity of the state.

According to these works, the state may most fruitfully be understood as a set of translocal institutions that are made manifest and visible in localized or specific practices. As Penelope Harvey , p. Why has this position been crucial, not to say liberating? It means accepting that researchers may produce valuable knowledge of a part of the complexity inherent in the constitution and reconstitution of a particular state-system through investigating a group of localized processes and practices, or through making an ethnography based on localized participant observation.

The third major idea behind the new studies stresses the historical and cultural specificity of constructions of the state and the need for a thoroughly critical perspective on the growing, global domination of the Western conceptual apparatus. The basic problem, however, is not that the distinction between state and civil society expresses Eurocentrism. To reiterate, the renewed anthropological research on the state claims that a modern state must be understood as produced by a broad and shifting field of power relations, everyday practices and formations of meaning.

Instead of operating with a sharply confining and static starting point, the framework of a distinction between the state and civil society, one should begin by recognizing that one needs a more open conception of the state. It is true that this makes the presence of the state in social life a good deal more fluid than is often thought. One who inspired others at an early date to look again at the anthropology of the modern state was Michael Taussig. Others who published important anthropological works on the state in the second half of the s were Ana Alonso and Fernando Coronil , writing, respectively, on the Mexican and the Venezuelan state.

Since the late s, two influential theorists in the discipline in general and in political anthropology in particular have been James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta. Ferguson and Gupta's coauthored, programmatic American Ethnologist article Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal, Governmentality has been enormously important. Gupta is in addition coeditor, with Aradhana Sharma, of the reader The Anthropology of the State , a collection of historical and contemporary writings. In , he published an innovative, ethnographically driven study of bureaucratic practices in India.

In Red Tape , Gupta sees the relation between the state in India and the poor as one of structural violence that every year kills 2—3 million people. Nor is the Indian state indifferent to the difficulties of the poor; it finances many poverty amelioration programs. Yet the Indian state care is arbitrary and irrational in its effects, he shows, and that arbitrariness is systematically produced by the very activities and projects that are meant to alleviate social suffering. That is, political anthropology has engaged itself increasingly in the broader academic and political conversation about globally extended uses of categories and perspectives derived from one particular, historically constituted political theory.

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Today anthropologists study important elements of liberal political philosophy — sovereignty, citizenship, democracy, security, and so on — but instead of approaching that tradition as if it belonged to nature, or reifying it, they deal with it as one more political cosmology, more fruitfully seen as an object of ethnographic-historical examination than as a platform and framework for generating objective understanding.

Language policy varies also as a function of the general political regime. The historical expansion of political participation to encompass the more modest strata of the population imparted to language minorities greater weight in the political arena , fostering demands to lower what they perceived as an unduly large share of language costs by providing public services in additional languages as well as reducing or eliminating linguistic obstacles to upward mobility by way of education.

Similar challenges tend to arise among hitherto authoritarian countries in the course of democratization. Another important regime variable is its degree of centralization. And that this in turn can empower change makers across the board to actively take position against unsustainability and find ways to collectively move forward. Join us at upcoming events. Read our recent articles, blogs and interviews. Challenge us on Twitter , Facebook or LinkedIn.

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