Overview

Emma Crewe is an anthropologist working on politics, governance and identity in civil society organisations and parliament in the UK, South Asia and East Africa based at SOAS, University of London. Her research into international development NGOs began in 1987 and into parliament goes back to the House of Lords in 1998-2002 and the House of Commons 2011-2013.

She is currently co-ordinating a research coalition engaged in research on parliament's role in poverty reduction in Bangladesh and Ethiopia with the Hansard Society. She has joined the faculty teaching on an innovative course (Doctorate in Management by Research) as a Visiting Professor at the University of Hertfordshire and has been Chair of the INGO Health Poverty Action since 2015. She is also researching gender equality within an international NGO with the Danish Institute for International Studies.

In April 2015 her book House of Commons: an Anthropology of MPs at Work was published by Bloomsbury and a pamphlet Commons and Lords: a Short Anthropology of Parliament came out as a Haus Curiosity, one of a series commissioned by Peter Hennessy. The House of Commons was shortlisted for the Thinking Aloud / British Sociological Association ethnography prize and she talked about it on Radio 4's Thinking Aloud in November 2016.

How good are politicians at shape-shifting?

Donald Trump’s lies, compiled by the New York Times a few days ago, are interesting not so much for what they reveal about him, but what they reveal about his audience. Anthropologists Martin and Frause-Jensen point out that he seems to get support despite or even because he doesn’t try to hide or duck the lies, faux pas and contradictions.  Perhaps this is the core of his appeal? Like a classic trickster, he embodies contradictions in a way that appeals to those struggling with the same oppositions themselves. He once said he hoped the housing market would collapse, which it did with 5 million people losing their homes, and shrugged that off as business. But he wrote proudly about how he bullied a bank manager not to foreclose the mortgage of a widow. It is a familiar pattern. People frequently make themselves feel good by sponsoring the education of one African child but shrug about the poverty across most of the world, seeing it as beyond their control. People do tend to lie, so perhaps they forgive Trump’s mis-speaking – as he pretends it is – because they can imagine themselves doing the same. At least he is not a robot spouting the scripts of his mandarins.

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