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David Beck, David Yen-Chieh Liao & Thomas Saalfeld: The Role of Rituals in Adversarial Parliaments: An Analysis of Expressions of Collegiality in the British House of Commons. [Abstract]

Despite the adversarial character of debates in the British House of Commons, Members of Parliament (MPs) observe a highly ritualized rhetorical style emphasizing collegiality and mutual respect across party lines. The language MPs use in this context harks back to an ancient pre-democratic past. Why does a modern democratic legislature conceal partisan conflict by using pre-democratic ritualistic references to “the House” as a corporate actor? Why do they call their fiercest competitors “honourable Members” or even “Friends”? In this paper, we review the results of important empirical studies suggesting that the activities even of modern democratic parliaments (based on intense party competition) reveal traces of pre-democratic corporate bodies in some respects. Analyzing a large corpus of parliamentary speeches in the British House of Commons between 1988 and 2019, we propose a novel technique to identify and measure references to collegiality in Britain’s parliamentary system. We demonstrate the extent to which such references vary systematically by party and across time, suggesting that they are used strategically in the stylized and ritualized language of parliamentary debate in the Commons depending on the status of MPs as members of government or oppositional parties.

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