MANCHESTER - Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning will be giving a presentation, "Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape," with Noah Coburn of Bennington College.

This talk will be presented on Wednesday, Aug. 28, from 7 - 8:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Manchester.

Local politics in Afghanistan are not that different from small-town politics in Vermont: towns have and have deep histories. Most concerns are local, about things like land, and there is a tendency to try to resolve disputes and conflicts in local meetings.

But what happens when new processes like internationally sponsored elections are brought in? How do local actors try and take advantage of these processes to change political systems for better or worse?

Coburn will focus on a small community of potters he worked with in 2006-2008 and how local elections have contributed to instability in local governance mechanisms.

In town, a small group of warlords have used elections to solidify their grasp on power and actually undermine democratic governance for most in the community.

Drawing on research on how communities are coping with a political economy that is being altered by the drawdown in troops and international funds, he will consider some of the issues that will arise in the crucial Afghan presidential elections scheduled for 2014.


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Coburn is a political anthropologist who specializes in local political structures, violence and dispute resolution in Afghanistan. He has worked in Afghanistan since 2005 and spent 18 months in 2006-2008 studying local politics in the market town of Istalif.

He wrote "Bazaar Politics: Power and Pottery in an Afghan Market Town," published in 2012 by Stanford University Press. In 2009-2011 Coburn was based in Kabul where he focused on rule of law, dispute resolution and elections for the United States Institute of Peace and Evaluation Unit.

His forthcoming book with political scientist Anna Larson, "Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan," focuses on recent internationally sponsored elections in the country.

Coburn received his doctorate in anthropology from Boston University in 2010, his master's in regional studies from Columbia University, and his BA from Williams College. He has taught at the American University of Afghanistan, Boston University, the University of Michigan, and Skidmore College.

He is currently at Bennington College where he teaches courses on violence, politics in non-Western societies and research methodologies.

Tickets for this event are $20 and may be purchased online at greenmtnacademy.org or by calling Gloria Palmer at 802-366-1820.