Democratic Designs: International Intervention and Electoral Practices in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina
University of Michigan Press, 2007 - 297 pages
The signing of the Dayton Peace Accords brought more than peace to Bosnia-Herzegovina; it also brought an influx of international aid workers intent on helping Bosnia and Bosnians out of war. Democratic Designs examines the tool kit, experiences, and understandings of these "internationals" charged with bringing democracy to postconflict societies around the world.
Democratic Designs is an ethnography of the practices of international intervention and democracy building. Coles examines both the lives of internationals and the work they performed in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, in order to demonstrate how democracy---as a set of meanings and practices---is built through routine, instrumental, and procedural actors like audit reports, signatures, voter registers, and election supervisors. Over a period covering five election cycles, Coles had unique access to electoral forms and reforms as they were put into practice and documents exactly how the privileged lives of the internationals---above the state institutions they were building and far from the realities of normal life in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina---interacted with their democratic works.
"Perceptive anthropology meets international democracy promotion---the result is an arresting, original study of the controversial effort to build Bosnian democracy."
"Democracy projects have become a field of expertise and a tool of empire. Democratic Designs is a brilliant exploration of this paradoxical world."
"Democratic Designs is a careful, detailed and thoughtful ethnography of electoral practices in one case of internationally imposed 'democracy.' Coles had access to the day-to-day practices of producing democratic elections, and recounts these in an accessible way. The account makes a number of important contributions to the growing anthropological literature on the sociality of bureaucracy---and internationalist bureaucracy in particular."
Kimberley Coles is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Redlands.