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Evaluating participatory development: tyranny, power and (re)politicisation

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557 - 578
Number of pages22
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number3
PublishedMar 2004

King's Authors


Ever since participation entered mainstream development discourse, critics have attacked it as form of political control. If development is indeed an lanti-politics machine' (Ferguson, 1994), the claim is that participation provides a remarkably efficient means of greasing its wheels. But do participatory practices and discourse necessarily represent the de-politicisation of development? This paper aims to provide an answer in two distinct ways. First, it examines the 'de-politicisation' critique, arguing that, while participation may indeed be a form of 'subjection', its consequences are not predetermined and its subjects are never completely controlled. Second, it investigates participatory development's ability to open up new spaces for political action, arguing that celebrations of 'individual liberation' and critiques of 'subjection to the system' both over-simplify participation's power effects. To re-politicise participation, empowerment must be re-imagined as an open-end and ongoing process of engagement with political struggles at a range of spatial scales.

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