Dr Leo Coleman

UK Host Institution: University of Edinburgh
Project status

Democratic Procedures: Referendums in Anthropological Perspective

A nation was once famously defined as a “daily plebiscite” (Ernst Renan), an analogy with new relevance as referendums proliferate as a key technique of majoritarian democracy. Yet however “direct” they may appear, a grammar of formal law and international principles, and the simple agreement to abide by procedurally correct results, are all at stake—and at risk—in referendums. My research examines referendums anthropologically, as legal processes and cultural dramas that require participants to reflect on democratic ethics and belonging, and that spur debate over fundamental political compacts. I examine colonial plebiscites and independence votes alongside contemporary events in Britain, exploring the procedural debates each event sparked and the specific principles at stake in distinct periods. I will engage with legal experts on current debates and conduct research on anthropology's historical engagement with referendums and plebiscites in colonial contexts, while establishing collaborations toward research on a possible second Scottish independence referendum.

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