Anthropology of Parliament

When publishing a book it is exciting to what total strangers make of it. Danny Dorling wrote about my latest – the House of Commons, an anthropology of MPs at work – in the Times Higher Education, in favourable terms and it is a cracking read. But it was interesting to see a book about politics become political material. He suggests I said Tory MPs do a lot of shooting, skiing and being rude about state schools but he exaggerated. One Conservative made the claim about some Tory MPs shooting and skiing in a particular week and another was reported in the press as denigrating state schools. More importantly, I did not suggest that Nicola Blackwood did anything but win her seat in the 2010 election fairly and legally. I have never interviewed her but was quoting a piece she and other Conservatives wrote about winning marginal seats (Blackwood’s article). She only ‘stole’ the seat (not votes) in the sense that the previous MP expected to win it, not in an underhand way.

A reader commenting on the Amazon site was not obviously political but was out of date. He wanted me to write about how the Commons fits into society as a system; structural and systemic models were once fashionable in anthropology but I would suggest that anthropologists gave them up many years ago on the grounds that they imply rigid boundaries, lack of dynamism and can fail to take account of diversity and individual or group performance. So the analysis that weaves through the text is more about the importance of history and culture rather than systems – as he says, my intention was to read the culture of Parliament. He suggests that because organisational ethnographies have been written before, for example about the BBC, there is no need for more. That would mean the end of anthropology of people at work. It all makes me realise that I should perhaps explain more about what contemporary anthropology is about but this was not the right book for dense scholarly method and theory. Fortunately I have just been asked to write a journal article about that so I’d better get on with it.