Voting As Symbolic Practice: Comparing Electoral Rituals in France and Britain

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: Booth 45
Oral Presentation
Colin HAY , Sciences Po, Paris, 75007 Paris, France
Florence FAUCHER , Sciences Po, Paris, 75337 Paris Cedex 07, France
Voting is a symbolic practice.  Yet as political scientists focus increasingly either on the outcomes of elections or on citizens’ motivations to vote in the first place – typically by building models of the former on assumptions made about the later – we tend to forget the symbolic significance of the practice itself and the meaning and impact it has on the participants.  In this paper we seek to restore a focus on this symbolic dimension, exploring some of the differences between the ritualisation of democracy through an analysis of voting rituals in France and Britain.  We explore what citizens do when they vote and the extent to which these actions reflect and contribute to construct particular visions of the polity and the place of citizens within it.  In particular we pay attention to how the voter’s choice is constructed as either something that can be performed and hence displayed publicly or as irredeemably secret and private.  We consider how such typically taken-for-granted practices help us to understand how polities have been constituted and reproduced on the basis of divergent assumptions about the boundaries of the public and the private.