Elections are not what you think they are: Lessons from Afghanistan’s past decade of elections

On June 11 2014 Dr. Noah Coburn had a discussion about the elections of Afghanistan and lessons learned from it in AIAS:

Too often in our discussions and analysis of elections, we become fixated on predicting outcomes.  This ignores the fact that elections and their long-term political effects are about much more than simply selecting political representation.  This talk focused on the Afghan elections of 2009 and 2010, in order to look ahead and try to understand the ways in which elections reaffirm and reshape historic structures, serve as political rituals, create and re-create embedded symbols, serve as forums for the emergence of new technology and reflect demographic shifts in political power. There were five points focused on the program:

  • Elections as Political Rituals
  • Elections as Political Expression
  • Elections as Reaffirming/Reshaping Local Structures
  • Elections and Violence
  • Elections as Embedded Symbols

Coburn is a United States Institute of Peace, the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit and the Agha Khan Trust for Culture.socio-cultural anthropologist focusing on political structures and violence in the Middle East and Central Asia. At Bennington he teaches courses on the overlap of politics, power and culture. He has conducted over 5 years of field research in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

In 2006-2008 he spent 18 months with a group of potters in the town of Istalif, some 30 miles north of Kabul. His book, Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town, explains how various lineages of potters and other craftspeople in town worked together to maintain peace even while the insurgency grew rapidly in neighboring districts. This first full length ethnography from Afghanistan since the 1970s was reviewed in The New York Times, The Financial Times and elsewhere. More recently, Coburn has conducted extensive research on elections and dispute resolution in several different provinces across Afghanistan.


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