Community Activists Network
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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