An anthropology of contemporary political parties: Reflexions on methods and theory
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political parties anthropology organisational change party members
(Special Issue: Political Parties). Adopting an anthropological approach to analyse contemporary political parties is fairly unusual and has tended to be limited to the margins of the political system (greens, extreme left and right), yet it provides a useful lens to explain how these organisations are changing. By focusing on the meanings that are constructed by partisans through their interactions within the party, it draws attention to the ways in which their social representations (on what society is/ought to be) and their symbolic practices (what they think is the appropriate way to act) are negotiated, taken for granted or disputed. It allows us to understand the processes through which policies, teams, rules and behaviours change or are “reformed” and how these evolutions affect members. The article builds from several such studies conducted in the UK and in France in the 1990s and 2000s. It highlights several specific contributions of anthropology to our analysis of political parties: the role of symbolic practices, the construction of group styles (in interaction with national political institutions and culture), the public performance of leadership, policy-making and democracy.