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Accepted Paper:

East Javanese plenary rituals and the semiotic forms of parliamentary practice  
Heikki Wilenius (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

The paper proposes to analyse parliamentary practice by focussing on their public rituals and associated semiotic forms. By presenting a parliamentary ritual from East Java, it highlights the methodological advantages and challenges of studying parliament rituals from a semiotic perspective.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents a model of analysing parliamentary practice by focussing on their public rituals and associated semiotic forms. Leaning on Webb Keane's concept of "semiotic ideology" (2007), this approach emphasizes the interpretation of parliamentary practices from the perspective of the councillors/MPs "presupposed cultural theory of semiosis" (Parmentier 1994).

As an example, the paper describes the practices of regional councils in East Java, where there is an elaborate parliamentary ritual that is acted out on every public plenary session. When individual councillors put their agency in abeyance, the ritual is seen as celebrating Javanese political values. Rarely, this ritual order is disturbed by councillors' public criticism of the executive branch, which is seen as a failure of the parliamentary process.

By highlighting the relationship between the parliamentary ritual, the actors' analyses of it, and the wider political discourse, it is possible to engage in an "immanent critique" of a parliamentary culture, instead of relying on the Eurocentric normative yardstick of liberal democracy, for example. The paper closes with a brief discussion on the limits of this approach to studying parliaments, by considering the relationship between public rituals and private negotiations, and assessing if these connections can be analysed with the same theoretical framework.

Panel P094b
Ethnography of Parliaments [LAW NET]