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date: 16 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The observation of a political leadership is associated with ethnographic investigation and interpretation. This chapter argues that the observation of political leadership practices, alongside extended conversations and the analysis of artefacts and documents, allows the researcher to provide a rich ‘thick description’ of the inner world of powerful elites, their decision-making, and their interactions. The use of observational analysis to research political leadership is relatively rare, as achieving access is difficult for researchers without official sanction or personal connections. Nevertheless, many observational studies of national and local, elected and non-elected political and administrative leadership have been undertaken, providing insights that temper more deterministic rational choice, institutional, and constitutional theories of political leadership. In settings where political agency and individual judgement are both interesting and impactful, observational research can provide insights on political leadership unavailable through other means. Observing political leaders not only serves to triangulate other data but can uncover the important informal ‘rules of the game’ and remind us that the interpretation of the ‘organization of political life’ makes a difference, as well as reminding us of the opportunities for powerful, resource-rich actors to exercise agency even in circumstances of constraint.

Keywords: observational method, political leadership, political ethnography

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