Democratic Designs

International Intervention and Electoral Practices in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina
Kimberley Coles
Examines the world of humanitarian aid workers and the processes of democratization that they put into effect in Bosnia-Herzegovina


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.

Kimberley Coles is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Redlands.

Praise / Awards

  • "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."
    —Annelise Riles, Professor of Law and Anthropology at Cornell University and author and editor of several books, including The Network Inside Out

  • "Perceptive anthropology meets international democracy promotion—the result is an arresting, original study of the controversial effort to build Bosnian democracy."
    —Thomas Carothers, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

  • "Democracy projects have become a field of expertise and a tool of empire. Democratic Designs is a brilliant exploration of this paradoxical world."
    —Timothy Mitchell, Professor of Politics, Director of International Center for Advanced Studies, New York University

  • "Coles (Univ. of Redlands) offers an alternative view by employing ethnographic tools to tease out the bureaucratic techniques and processes of democratization implemented by the members of the international community in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, a region of former Yugoslavia, in the late 1990s."
    Choice, L. Stan, Concordia University

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Copyright © 2007, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 320pp.
  • 31 figures, 6 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2007
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06985-9

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  • $31.95 U.S.



  • Cultural Anthropology, Middle and Near Eastern Studies, Political Science, International Relations, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Democratization Studies, Comparative Politics, Policy Studies, Election Observers, International Aid