Accepted paper:

Making parliament work: meetings at the National Assembly of Quebec


Samuel Shapiro (Université Laval)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic fieldwork at the National Assembly of Quebec, I examine the many public and backstage meetings that are part and parcel of everyday parliamentary life. I bring out larger themes in Quebec society and contribute to broader anthropological knowledge about institutions.

Paper long abstract:

Even a cursory glance reveals that formal institutional meetings, such as sittings and committees, are at the heart of parliamentary activity. Despite a growing anthropological interest in institutions, including parliaments, we have little systematic ethnographic work on the wide variety of political and administrative meetings (involving MPs, civil servants and others) that occur on a regular basis in parliaments, as well as the contexts, preconditions and preparative work which are necessary for these meetings - public and backstage, formal and informal - to take place. Based on fieldwork conducted at the National Assembly of Quebec during one of its few hung parliaments, I will describe in detail the setup and forms of these various meetings, their role in the larger parliamentary apparatus and the relationship between these meetings as well as the individuals within them. I will show how a detailed examination of the forms and procedures of action of these meetings can shed light on broader aspects of Quebec's parliament and larger society. I will particularly emphasise the ways that Quebec has adapted the Westminster parliamentary system to an institution that operates almost entirely in French and the inner workings of Quebec's first - and, furthermore, single-party - minority government formed by a party (the Parti Québécois) that advocates Quebec's becoming an independent country from Canada. However, I also use meetings to shed light on more universal parliamentary themes that I suspect are far from unique to Quebec, notably the place of humour and the coexistence of old and new technologies.

panel P14
Meetings: procedure and artifacts of modern knowledge