Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation: Exploring New Approaches to Participation in Development

Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation: Exploring New Approaches to Participation in Development


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Participation has established itself as a significant approach to project implementation, policy-making and governance in developing and developed countries alike. Recently, however, it has become fashionable to dismiss participation as more rhetoric than substance, and subject to manipulation by agencies and social change agents intent simply on pursuing their own agendas under cover of community consent. In this important new volume, development and other social policy scholars and practitioners seek to rebut this simplistic conclusion, while addressing the problems of power and politics which have beset some approaches to participation. They describe and analyse new experiments in participation from a wide diversity of social contexts that show how, far from being a redundant and depoliticizing concept, participation can — given certain conditions — be linked to genuinely transformative processes and outcomes for marginalized communities and people.

This volume is the first comprehensive attempt to evaluate the state of participatory approaches in the aftermath of the 'Tyranny' critique. It captures the recent convergence between participatory development and participatory governance, and spans the range of institutional actors involved in these approaches - the state, civil society and donor agencies. It places participatory interventions in a political context, and links them directly to issues of popular agency. The volume embeds participation within contemporary advances in development theory and proposes theoretical and practical ways forward for relocating participation as a genuinely transformative approach.

Scholars and practitioners alike, and from a diversity of disciplines and community and development agencies, are likely to find this volume a theoretically illuminating and practically useful source of ideas about how participation can achieve concrete liberatory outcomes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781842774601
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
Publication date: 10/01/2004
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Samuel Hickey is a lecturer in Social Development at the Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester.

Giles Mohan is a lecturer in Development Studies in the Development Policy and Practice discipline of the Open University. He is the coauthor of Structural Adjustment: Theory, Practice and Impacts (2000) and of Power, Space and Development (2003).
Samuel Hickey is a lecturer in Social Development at the Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester.

Giles Mohan is a lecturer in Development Studies in the Development Policy and Practice discipline of the Open University. He is the coauthor of Structural Adjustment: Theory, Practice and Impacts (2000) and of Power, Space and Development (2003).

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Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation?

Exploring New Approaches to Participation in Development

By Samuel Hickey, Giles Mohan

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2004 Samuel Hickey and Giles Mohan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84277-460-1


Towards participation as transformation: critical themes and challenges


Setting the scene

The notion and practice of participation in international development stands at an uneasy crossroads, reviled in some academic and practitioner circles, yet as ubiquitous as ever in others. Having moved virtually unchecked from the margins to the mainstream of development since the mid-1980s, the past decade witnessed a growing backlash against the ways in which participation managed to 'tyrannize' development debates without sufficient evidence that participatory approaches were living up to the promise of empowerment and transformative development for marginal peoples. This was vividly captured in a book entitled Participation: The New Tyranny? (Cooke and Kothari 2001), which focused explicitly on 'participation' in the form of participatory rural appraisal. Few contributors to the Tyranny collection envisaged a positive future for participatory development.

Nevertheless, the evidence so far in the new millennium suggests that participation has actually deepened and extended its role in development, with a new range of approaches to participation emerging across theory, policy and practice (however, although characterized as tyrannical, this mainstreaming and spread are highly uneven). Most significantly, people in developing countries are continually devising new and innovative strategies for expressing their agency in development arenas. What remains to be explored is not only the extent to which the current generation of participatory approaches can offer answers to the critique ranged against participatory development, but can also (re)establish it as a legitimate and genuinely transformative approach to development.

Participation essentially concerns the exercise of popular agency in relation to development, a concern that has been characteristic of post-impasse development studies (e.g. Long and van der Ploeg 1994), and much contemporary development policy is (ostensibly) based on recognizing existing capacities of people as active claims-making agents (e.g. sustainable livelihoods and rights-based approaches). It is not the aim of this collection directly to refute the Tyranny critique, but we feel its contribution to understandings of participation as popular agency can be extended in three ways. First, although the Tyranny collection marked the high-point of the backlash against participation, the notion has been subject to a much longer and arguably deeper series of critiques that go beyond narrow interpretations of participation (e.g. Stiefel and Wolfe 1994, Cooke, this volume). It therefore makes little sense to have this as the only source of departure. Second, we agree with the Tyranny critique's charge that participatory development has often failed to engage with issues of power and politics and has become a technical approach to development that, in various ways, depoliticizes what should be an explicitly political process. As such, the intention here is to draw out the most salient of these charges, and critically assess contemporary approaches to participation against them.

Finally, the contours of debates over participation have changed in recent years, in ways that matter to both critics and proponents of participation. The importance of participation in development can no longer juxtapose the alleged benefits of bottom-up, people-centred, process-oriented and 'alternative' approaches with top-down, technocratic, blueprint planning of state-led modernization. The mainstreaming of participatory approaches to development – particularly the spread of project-based methodologies like participatory rural appraisal (PRA) from non-governmental organizations to major development agencies, and the scaling up of these approaches into national and international policy-making, through participatory poverty assessments – has helped to blur these neat divisions. Moreover, the recent broadening of the participatory agenda, to encompass institutional issues of governance as well as development policy and practice requires an engagement with wider debates concerning the changing state, in relation to processes of democratization and decentralization. Any claims that participation can challenge the problems of 'uneven development' must be grounded in evidence and theoretically-informed argument rather than in opposition to previously dominant models of development.

The collection is divided into six sections, the first of which reviews contemporary debates and thematic challenges surrounding debates over how participation might be (re)established as a transformative approach to development, while also offering a sceptical note on the dangers of continuing with any participatory project. The second section seeks to rethink the concept of participation through theoretical engagements with space, political capabilities and citizenship. The next three sections analyse case studies of different actors and processes engaged in participation. Section III continues the theoretical debates over participation in relation to the links between participation and popular agency as an embedded practice, and focuses on the complexities of 'indigenous' decision-making. Part IV focuses on civil society and the local state and the synergies and conflicts between them while Part V examines participatory initiatives by international development donors. The final section comprises short reflections by key commentators based both on a selection of chapters from the collection and wider debates on participation.

As will become clear, an underlying theme in all the contributions is that 'politics matters' within international development. We believe, and most contributors confirm, that understanding the ways in which participation relates to existing power structures and political systems provides the basis for moving towards a more transformatory approach to development; one which is rooted in the exercise of a broadly defined citizenship. This chapter seeks to identify the key thematic challenges with which participatory approaches must make a constructive engagement if participation is to be (re)constituted as a viable and transformative approach to development. This requires that we first situate participation within development theory, policy and practice, from both a historical and contemporary perspective.

A brief history of participation in development

Participation has a longer and more varied genealogy in development thinking and practice than is usually acknowledged, and has been periodically regenerated around new schools of thought, institutional agendas and changing political circumstances. This is an important recognition since much of the focus on the mainstreaming of participation over the 1990s, both laudatory and critical, has tended to single out the spread of PRA and treat it as the definitive form of participation. This obscures the diversity of participatory approaches and also overlooks previous debates around alternative approaches.

As Table 1.1 makes apparent, participation has been a central concern for a number of different approaches to development. Each approach has its own trajectory and contextual specificities, and is characterized by particular debates and empirical experiences. Some have continued while others have petered out, and there has been a politics and a political economy surrounding the relative success of each approach, particularly the recent mainstreaming of the 'participation in development' approach. Conversations, both complimentary and critical, can clearly be heard between the different approaches to participation. For example, Chambers (1994) cites Freirean action research as one of several influences on the emergence of PRA, although he is cautious of the more radical Freirean school, restricting talk of power reversals to individuals rather than broader systems of power relations through which people are structurally disempowered (Williams et al. 2003a).

There are at least four ways in which different approaches to participation can be characterized and compared: the locus and level of engagement, ideological/political project, conception of citizenship, and links to development theory. Analysis along these axes, and particularly the latter two, allows for greater clarity over which form of participation is being discussed and promoted, and for what purpose. The locus of change that participatory approaches seek to engage with might be individual/ institutional or micro/macro. For example, a recent criticism has concerned the overly localist approach of many participatory approaches to the exclusion of broader, more structural patterns of injustice (Mohan and Stoke 2000). This level of engagement determines who or what will be the focus of efforts towards empowerment and transformation, or potentially the subject of coercion and control.

Following on from this, the second dimension of comparison concerns the ideological underpinnings of different approaches to participation. What Table 1.1 reveals is that 'participation' has been called on to perform a wide range of functions for differing purposes, ideologies and political projects. It has never been entirely free of charges of being tyrannical. The emancipatory projects of social justice that underpin the 'alternative' approaches of the 1970s can be juxtaposed with the community development movements (colonial and post-independence) where there were clear intentions to control rural populations.

Third, the promotion of 'citizenship' as a normative goal of participation is woven throughout most approaches to participation to date. What has varied has been the different forms and content of citizenship promoted under each approach. It can be asked whether the focus has been on liberal forms of citizenship at the national level (e.g. political participation) or on substantive, communitarian forms (community development), and whether the emphasis is on participation as a right (alternative development) or as an obligation of citizenship (community development). In contemporary terms, the concept and practice of citizenship is increasingly viewed as the means by which to capture both popular agency in a more political sense and the convergence between participatory development and participatory governance (e.g. Gaventa, this volume). We return ourselves to this theme below and in more depth in Chapter 4. Finally, it is important to trace the links between approaches to participation and broader trends within development theory, and it is this neglected dimension that we turn to here.

Participation and development theory

Several approaches to participation emerged in an era of state failure, panic over top-down modernization approaches, proclamations of the end of grand explanations and a measure of post-colonial guilt. As Vincent (this volume) notes, the 'community' has periodically been destroyed by underlying processes of development, only to be resurrected as the proper source of recovery through trustee-led interventions. We are now undergoing a reassessment of development theory, much of it condensed to debates over the respective roles that institutional arenas (public, private and civic) should play (e.g. Brett 2000). The convergence between participatory development and governance can be seen in the context of an increasing interest in the synergies and division of labour between public and civic spheres. However, we would argue also that development theory is far from limited to such institutional debates, and that real contests remain concerning the form that development and democracy, state and civil society can and should take, and concerning how to theorize the role of agency within debates over development and governance. There are good reasons for participation to engage with this broader level of theorizing.

The imminent/immanent divide is of particular utility in setting the terms of this debate (Cowen and Shenton 1996). The relationship between 'development' in the form of specific interventions and 'development' as a historical process of social change is a perennial concern within development studies. Imminent development, led by a belief in the 'makeability' of society, emerged over the past two centuries largely as a means of managing those 'surplus populations' that have either been excluded from or 'adversely incorporated' into processes of immanent development (ibid.). It can be argued that there has been a tendency within contemporary development studies to focus on imminent rather than immanent processes of development, in part due to the strong moral imperative to focus solutions on ongoing problems of impoverishment and exclusion. It is this tendency which Kapoor (2002) describes as inductive and empiricist as opposed to metaphysical and theoretical. More specifically, two recent movements have further consolidated this trend: first, the apparent failure of 'classic' development theory adequately to capture and predict these historical processes (Booth 1994) and, second, the perceived need for development research to become more 'relevant' in terms of directly informing interventions (Edwards 1994). However, to privilege the practices of imminent development risks a further type of 'irrelevance' by distracting from an engagement with the underlying forces of socioeconomic and political change that shape people's livelihoods. The related assertion that development can be wilfully 'managed' through 'the right mixture' of institutional responses has further 'depoliticized' the practice of development in poor countries (Ferguson 1994), rendering it a technocratic process to be administered and planned for by agents of development rather than negotiated with and contested by its subjects.

The mainstream and 'populist' form of 'participation in development' of the 1980s onwards claimed to address these various irrelevancies. It asserted the importance of placing local realities at the heart of development interventions and the need to transform agents of development from being directive 'experts' to 'facilitators' of the collection of local knowledge and the 'enablers' of capabilities. Moreover, the 'power' transformations required between 'uppers' and 'lowers', it was argued, could be achieved through according participatory roles to the subjects of development at each stage of development interventions. It was with this form of participatory development that the critical backlash of the 1990s has been most clearly directed, not least, we argue, because of its failure to engage with underlying processes of development.


Excerpted from Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation? by Samuel Hickey, Giles Mohan. Copyright © 2004 Samuel Hickey and Giles Mohan. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
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Table of Contents

List of Contributors

Part I: From Tyranny to Transformation?
1. Towards participation as transformation: critical themes and challenges for a post-tyranny agenda
Sam Hickey and Giles Mohan
2. Towards Participatory Local Governance: Assessing the Transformative Possibilities
John Gaventa
3. Rules of Thumb for Participatory Change Agents
Bill Cooke

Part 2: Rethinking participation
4. Relocating Participation within a Radical Politics of Development: Critical Modernism and Citizenship
Giles Mohan and Sam Hickey
5 Spaces for transformation? Reflections on issues of power and difference in participation in development
Andrea Cornwall
6. Towards a Repoliticisation of Participatory Development: Political Capabilities and Spaces of Empowerment
Glyn Williams

Part 3: Participation as popular agency: reconnecting with underlying processes of development
7. Participation, resistance and problems with the 'local' in Peru: towards a new political contract?
Susan Vincent
8. The 'Transformative' Unfolding of 'Tyrannical' Participation: The Corv‚e Tradition and Ongoing Local Politics in Western Nepal
Katsuhiko Masaki
9. Morality, Citizenship and Participatory Development in an Indigenous Development Association: the case of GPSDO and the Sebat bet Gurage of Ethiopia
Leroi Henry

Part 4: Realising transformative participation in practice: state and civil responses
10. Relocating participation within a radical politics of development: insights from political action and practice
Sam Hickey and Giles Mohan
11. Securing voice and transforming practice in local government: The role of federating in grassroots development
Diana Mitlin
12. Participatory Municipal Development Plans in Brazil: Divergent Partners Constructing Common Futures
Glauco Regis Florisbelo
13. Confrontations with power: Moving beyond 'the tyranny of safety' in participation
Ute Kelly
14. Failing Forward: going beyond PRA and imposed forms of participation
Giles Mohan and Mark Waddington

Part V: Donors and participation: caught between tyranny and transformation?
15, Participation in Poverty Reduction Strategies: Democracy Strengthened or Democracy Undermined?
David Brown
16. Beyond the technical fix? Participation in donor approaches to rights-based development
Jeremy Holland, Mary Ann Brocklesby and Charles Abugre

Part 6: Broader perspectives on from tyranny to transformation
17. The social embeddedness of agency and decision-making
Frances Cleaver
18. Theorizing participation and institutional change: ethnography and political economy
Anthony Bebbington


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