Public lecture: Transnational history of elections and contemporary democracies

Dr. Zoé Kergomard will give a public lecture on the transnational history of elections and how that can help understand contemporary democracies. The lecture is part of the research seminar of the discipline of Political history and is held on Friday 11 November at 2 pm (Unioninkatu 40, room 12). All welcome!

The discipline of Political history hosts Dr. Zoé Kergomard who will give a lecture with the title

"Neutral procedure or «modern fetish»? What a transnational history of elections can help us understand about contemporary democracies"

In recent years, historians, political scientists and theorists have taken a renewed interest in elections, as they seemed increasingly questioned both by their widespread use in non-democratic regimes and by their “hollowing out” in Western “post-democracies”. A transnational outlook at the history of elections can be especially helpful to denaturalize common understandings of elections as just a neutral procedure and to make sense of their contemporary transformations, as I would like to discuss in this lecture. This history is more complex than the usual linear, Western-centric narratives of democratization may lead to think. As elections became a fixture of representative democracies in the 19th century, suffrage rights were still a matter of contention, just as voting procedures, technologies and systems themselves. Indeed, elections regularly cristallize(d) tensions on potentially contradictory questions such as electoral integrity, mass participation, citizen autonomy or the legitimation of representative institutions. Consequently, refusing or just criticizing elections has also always been part of their history. Anarchist thinker Emma Goldman’s provocative critique of suffrage as a “modern fetish” akin to religion can thus be understood as an invitation to look at elections with an anthropological perspective, from the celebration of election rituals on stamps, to the personal meanings that we may attach to our electoral choices.

Zoé Kergomard is an assistant professor in contemporary history at the University of Zurich, currently a visiting scholar at the University of Jyväskylä. Her current research project dwells on the history of electoral participation in France, Germany and Switzerland after 1945. Her PhD explored election campaigns in post-war Switzerland. She was previously a researcher at the German Historical Institute in Paris and at the University of Fribourg. Relevant publications in English: Moments of Democratic Evaluation?  Literature Review on the History of Elections and Election Campaigns in Western Europe (19th-21th centuries), in: Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 60, 2020, pp. 485–512; Knowledge on a Democratic “Silence”: Conflicting Expertise on the Decline in Voter Turnout in Postwar Switzerland (1940s–1980s), in: KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge 4 (2), 2020, pp. 232–261.

When: Friday 11 November, 2-4 pm
Where: Univeristy of Helsinki, Metsätalo (Unioninkatu 40), room 12

The lecture is open to all and will be followed by a Q + A session.