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Fisher, Calum Stewart (2022) Doing Democracy in Malawi: MPs and their Home Styles. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Political scientists have under-studied those who actually “do” formal politics – politicians, particularly those operating below the level of heads of state. This neglect has been acute in African politics, resulting from, and contributing to, a generalised disdain for African politicians and a set of unflattering assumptions about their allegedly self-interested and materialistic motivations and methods. This blind-spot has impoverished debates around democratisation, party-voter linkage, and economic development, amongst others. Approaching politics through the eyes of politicians, and taking Malawi as a case, this thesis focuses on an especially neglected yet important area: MPs’ attitudes towards, and behaviour within, their constituencies. Utilising an adjusted version of Fenno’s concept of “home styles” – and based upon close observation of MPs “at home” as well as extended interviews with them – the thesis addresses MPs’ motivations for entering politics; their experiences of primary contests; the logistics and sociology of campaigning for election; their constituency service, before and after taking office, in terms of both development projects and “handouts”; and finally, how their experiences of being a constituency MP inform their reflections about how democracy is (and is not) working in contemporary Malawi. I argue that MPs’ motivations transcend self-interest. Broadly (and in common with many aid donors) they have a deeply ambivalent attitude to democracy, grounded in an image of a country and of constituents lacking in necessary (self-) discipline. They seek office by making a presentation of themselves as an embodied exemplar of certain virtues and once in office usually try to hold a line on handouts, communicating a “presentation of (their) role” as elected representatives designed in part to limit the pressure that holding office places on their personal resources. Typically, MPs perceive themselves as failing on all fronts and adopt a distinctly pessimistic orientation towards democracy as a whole.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Alastair Fraser
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 30 Mar 2022 09:32
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council

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