Putting Democracy Under An Ethnographic-lens: Understanding of 'Democracy' and Popular Politics of JHU in Sri Lanka


Premakumara De Silva(1*)

(1) University of Colombo
(*) Corresponding Author


My main premise is that for anthropologists of post-colonial societies (but not only), 'democracy' should be regarded as one of many traditional ethnographic topics (such as kinship, religion, Caste, etc.) which ethnographers study to unpack the socio-cultural institutions and practices of the societies under investigation. The hypothesis behind this approach is that the moment democracy enters a particular historical and socio-cultural setting it becomes what Michelutti calls "vernacularized", and through vernacularisation it produces new social relations and values which in turn shape political rhetoric and political culture (2007). The process of vernacularisation of democratic politics, she means the ways in which values and practices of democracy become embedded in particular cultural and social practices, and in the process become entrenched in the consciousness of ordinary people (2007: 639-40).


Democratic practices associated with popular politics often base their strength and legitimacy on the principle of popular sovereignty versus the more conventional notions of liberal democracy. These popular forms of political participation are often accompanied by a polarisation of opinions and political practices between the so-called 'ordinary people' and the elites. Looking at democratisation processes through the prism of vernacularisation will therefore help to understand how and why democracy grounds itself in everyday life and becomes part of conceptual worlds that are often far removed from theories of liberal democracy.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22146/pcd.25705

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