Accepted Paper:

Cutting and calculating political authority  


Anne Kathrine Pihl vadgaard (IT University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

In this presentation, I explore the counting of a Danish election and discuss how heterogeneous and messy bureaucratic practices simultaneously construct an uncontested result and create the imaginary that nothing is being added to the link between voters’ will and political authority.

Paper long abstract:

When democratic elections run smoothly, the practices, that ensure a direct - free and fair - link from the will of the people to those who govern, are mostly hidden in the bureaucratic machinery of elections. These administrative aspects of elections are seen as a background to the political deliberation on Election Day, as practicalities and technicalities that provide the political spectacle with a transparent and neutral space. The myth of democracy, thus, often hides the reality of democracy making (Coles 2007). In this paper, however, I make visible how this mostly hidden electoral apparatus practically produces an election result at the end of a poll. Drawing on science and technology studies I establish sensitivities towards what could be called 'democracy in action'.

Based on 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a Danish municipal election office, I explore the production of a transparent and accountable election result. I argue that the count of ballots is simultaneously a well-oiled bureaucratic machinery and a chaotic mix of bending, twisting, and tinkering necessary to produce an uncontested election result. Through ethnographic stories of counting practices, I highlight how bureaucratic technicalities, together with careful counting and the negotiations of changing democratic concerns, not only make it possible to reach an election result. They also create the imaginary that nothing is being added to the direct link between voters' will and political authority.

Panel T036
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means