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The Anthropology of Parliament


The Westminster Parliament is worth closer scrutiny not just for the sake of democracy, but on intellectual grounds because
the surprises it contains challenge our understanding of politics. Based on anthropological fieldwork between 1998-2000 in
the House of Lords and 2011-2013 in the House of Commons and constituencies, this Curiosity explains how relationships
within the two Houses are utterly different from their surface appearances. The high social status of peers in the House of
Lords gives the impression of hierarchy and, more specifically, patriarchy. In contrast, the Commons conjures assumptions
of equality and fairness between members of the lower House. But observation of the everyday relationships within the
two Houses reveals the opposite: while the Lords has an egalitarian and co-operative ethos, and women thrive in the upper
House, the competitive and aggressive Commons is a far less comfortable place for women.

Paradoxically MPs have to be both an individual, serving their constituents, and a symbol of a collective, their political
party. The inevitable messiness of representative politics, and the disappointment it brings, are both the virtue and weakness
of parliamentary democracy. Emma Crewe looks beneath the surface and uncovers its surprises and secrets.

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