Participatory budgeting is a topic that will interest many of our members. In Popular Democracy: The Paradox of Participation, Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Ernesto Ganuza examine contemporary forms of participatory governance by tracing the origins and development of participatory budgeting (PB) from its roots in Porto Alegre, Brazil, to its adoption in two cases, Cordoba, Spain and Chicago, USA. While acknowledging that PB has been seen as being too easily co-opted by neoliberalism, the book’s critical yet hopeful perspective nonetheless illuminates the democratic potential of participatory instruments.

Popular Democracy: The Paradox of Participation, written by Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Ernesto Ganuza, analyses contemporary forms of participatory governance by tracing the genesis and expansion of the now-famous mechanism of participatory budgeting (PB). Originating in the Southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre and from the alliance between social movements and leftist political parties that rejected vanguardist strategy, the PB process sought to challenge the influence of clientelist networks over resource allocation, and to realise redistributive justice by devolving decisions over the city budget to a process of direct citizen participation.

Tracing its globalisation from Porto Alegre to the USA and to Europe (the ‘return of the caravels’, as one scholar puts it), Baiocchi and Ganuza cast a hopeful yet critical eye over the potentialities of this democratic institution. Both authors are academic researchers that have had a deep practical involvement in the two main case studies of the book: namely, participatory budgeting in Chicago, USA, and in Cordoba, Spain. Their experience adds depth to their political ethnographies and produces insights into the development of PB that are contextualised with historical analysis of the emergence of PB in Porto Alegre, its globalisation as well as broader developments in the interface of the theory and practice of democracy and public administration.

The central question that the book aims to answer – alluded to in its subtitle as the ‘paradox of participation’ – stems from the fact that these new institutions open up possibilities for democratic participation at a time when the space for democracy is being constrained by encroaching technocracy and the perceived need to appease markets. What opportunities do democratic innovations offer in the context of this paradox? Do they broaden possibilities to advance democracy and social justice, or do they narrow them by foreclosing alternative, more agonistic, forms of action that can challenge neoliberalism? In answering these questions, the authors carve open a space between sanguine advocates who celebrate the mainstreaming of democratic innovation and sceptical critics who identify and condemn their co-option by and perpetuation of neoliberalism.

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Comment by Jez Hall on August 17, 2017 at 12:29

as is alluded to in the following...
"Belo Horizonte has gradually become receptive to the use of ICT to supplement years of experimentation with a predominantly face-to-face form of PB. Although no major problems have arisen, “Digital PB” has been subjected to heavy criticism from the popular movements involved in regional Participatory Budgeting, who see it as a wealthier competitor that is more open to manipulation by “hegemonic” social groups (Sampaio, 2010). The case of Vignola, in turn, reinforces the idea of competition between different arenas for participation and reveals the risks of not confronting and establishing an interconnection between the “deliberative phase” (in the Anglo-Saxon sense of discussion and exchange of opinions and rational arguments) and the decision-making phase, that is, voting for the priorities to be financed by public funds. "

Comment by Jez Hall on August 17, 2017 at 11:50

I agree about the use of language... it sits at the heart of this debate, and also the one about technology... I'm maybe a little too old to grasp the concept of block-chains, but know others think they are the way forward. The reading i have seen on PB and online democracy has indicated that its become less equitable as there are also technology divides.
Because yes, PB is effectively what humans have always done, form the dawn of time, when we sat round a fire and planned the next hunting trip, or the next season of planting. But as institutions grow, and society gets bigger and mind bendingly complex some people are left sitting away from the warmth of the fire and in the shadows as the more powerful/engaged/exprienced hog the conversation.
Which is why video is often a useful way to share stories about PB... such as this one... and many others we could share

Comment by Roger Alexander on August 17, 2017 at 10:40

This is just a lot of long words arranged to confuse ordinary people.  Einstein said that if you cannot explain it to a child you do not understand it yourself.  Participatory budgeting was the very first way of creating a business plan and has been used ever since.  Block-chain technology is now available to facilitate open ledger accounting and modern communications overcome the blockage cause by meetings and conferences.  A child can understand that we can now talk to everyone concerned, and reach agreement before we spend money.

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