The House of Commons is one of Britain's mysterious institutions: constantly in the news yet always opaque. In this ground-breaking anthropological study of the world's most famous parliament, Emma Crewe reveals the hidden mechanisms of parliamentary democracy.Examining the work of Members of Parliament - including neglected areas such as constituencies and committees - this book provides unique insights into the actual lives and working relationships of parliamentarians. 'Why do the public loathe politicians but often love their own MP?' the author asks. The antagonistic façade of politics irritates the public who tend to be unaware that, backstage, democracy relies on MPs consulting, compromising and cooperating across political parties far more than is publicly admitted. As the book shows, this is only one of myriad contradictions in the labyrinths of power. Based on unprecedented access and two years of interviews and research in the Palace of Westminster and MPs' constituencies, The House of Commons: An Anthropology of MPs at Work challenges the existing scholarship on political institutions and party politics. Moving beyond the narrow confines of rational choice theory and new institutionalism, Emma Crewe presents a radical alternative to the study of British politics by demonstrating that all of its processes hinge on culture, ritual and social relations. A must-read for anyone interested in political anthropology, politics, or the Westminster model.
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Emma Crewe is a Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS, University of London, UK.
Introduction1. Joining the House2. Allies and Adversaries3. Constituents' Champions4. Rulers and Whips5. Scrutiny and Making Trouble6. In the Shadow of the Law7. Reading the RunesBibliographyIndex
"This anthropological tin-opener lifts the lid on Parliament and asks what drives people ... to so desperately want to be an MP ... [Crewe] is absolutely on the button in her vivid descriptions. - Times Higher Education
The book has many positives, the clear and interesting writing giving an almost novelistic feel to the narratives drawn from Crewe's multitude of original interviews. The sections on electoral campaigning and entering the Commons for the first time, for example, bring the reader right into the heads of those involved, and the chapter on constituency service is maybe the best thing written on this subject in the UK to date, rivalling Fenno's (1978) classic study of Congressional 'home style' for insight and colour. - Parliamentary Affairs
The House of Commons does what anthropology does best, namely, to depict how people actually behave rather than how documents and rules stipulate or predict how they will or should behave. It also shows the cultural and personal nature of supposedly formal and purely legal institutions ... sending an anthropologist in, especially one who achieves the access of Crewe in this instance, provides a view that few people ever get of their representatives in action-a view that ideally those representatives want us to have, so that we can more fully appreciate the pressures they are under and the work they actually accomplish. - Anthropology Review Database - David Eller
[Crewe brings us] what we might describe (with a nod to Bernard Williams) as a 'thick' account of the ethically-driven political life experienced through the emotions and ambiguities, the ambitions and disillusions, the joys and insults of lived experience ... [R]eaders should come away with a more complex (and if Crewe has her undisguised way, more sympathetic) understanding of the inner life of representative democracy. - The Journal of Legislative Studies
[This book is] lively and anecdotal, and based not simply on interviews, but on direct observation and participation: it derives much of its value and interest from the direct interaction between the anthropologist [Crewe] and her subjects. - Parliamentary History
The House of Commons is a focused study that reveals much about MPs, but one of its virtues is that it also makes the reader reflect on the wider political culture which shapes British politics ... The judicious use of such material makes this a very readable book ... [The book] offers readers thoughtful interpretations of aspects of everyday politics and unspoken assumptions that shape political behaviour. I recommend it highly. - Commonwealth and Comparative Politics
The close investigation and the use of direct sources and statements provide a realistic image of parliamentary work, making this study recommendable to anyone concerned with parliamentary research and teaching; political educators as well as anthropologists can benefit from this work. - Anthropos (Bloomsbury translation)
Subtle ... [and] empathetic ... The book itself explores the creatures in the lower house with a mix of first-hand experience, interviews, anecdotes and a recollection of history. It still has the feel of a text book that would be handy for politics students ... but also, as an anthropology, it touches on several aspects of human behaviour that [are] prevalent in many competitive environments and workplaces. - TheSubstantive.com - Mel Gomes
Crewe's work is insightful, and her example makes a strong case for anthropologists to be more widely involved in political analysis. Her perspective is in many respects more clear-eyed and accessible than many works of political science. She provides a wholly reasonable case as to why the public is perpetually dissatisfied with MPs, and why this shouldn't be the case. - The London School of Economics and Political Science"
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