Consociationalism and the politics of the census in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Ireland

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Population censuses have symbolic and instrumental importance for ethnic, national, linguistic or religious groups and their political representatives. This is particularly apparent in deeply divided societies, where political institutions are designed to accommodate groups through forms of power sharing. Existing literature posits that consociational power-sharing institutions, which are commonly employed to manage inter-group conflict, are likely to incentivise contestation and mobilisation in relation to the census, but this claim has not been tested empirically. Employing the case studies of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Ireland, this article tests a proposition about the relationship between consociationalism and the politics of the census: that it is corporate consociational designs that are likely to result in contestation of the census and mobilisation of groups during enumeration, whereas liberal consociational designs will not. The analysis offers support for this proposition, but also suggests that other features of power-sharing settlements, such as the federal nature of the Bosnian state and the majoritarian provision for a ‘border poll’ in the Northern Irish settlement, also play an important role in shaping census politics. These insights contribute to political geographic debates about the census by highlighting the influence of institutional design on struggles over how and where populations get counted, which are applicable beyond the immediate context of deeply divided societies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102248
JournalPolitical Geography
Early online date13 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Northern Ireland
  • census
  • consociationalism
  • power sharing


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