Participatory Budgeting in the Andes: Between Governmentality and the Infrapolitics of Resistance

John D. Cameron
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

A better understanding of the differences between the ‘public performances’ and ‘backstage commentaries’ of poor and marginalized people in participatory budget schemes is important for both development practitioners and scholars. For practitioners, it is important to recognize that people may take part in participatory budget meetings to pursue goals that are very different from those of well-intended government officials and NGO staff. The divergence of popular goals and strategies from those of development professionals does not necessarily imply the ignorance or false-consciousness of poor and marginalized people, but rather may reflect a well-grounded skepticism of externally- driven development schemes and conceptions of development that vary from those of governments and donor agencies. I am not arguing that the strategies or knowledge of participants is either superior or inferior to that of outside development professionals, simply that it may be difficult to pursue some important long-term development goals – such as increased economic productivity and improved health – through participatory budget schemes in which local actors may prioritize more immediate short-term goals such as income earned through cement projects. At the same time, the widespread prioritization of small-scale cement projects in participatory budget meetings in the rural Andes should lead practitioners to reflect on the capacity of projects designed to serve long-term development goals to also serve the immediate priorities of local participants.

For scholars working from both mainstream institutionalist and more critical political economy and Foucauldian perspectives, it is important to recognize that the behaviour of participants in participatory budget meetings cannot be inferred from either the institutional design of participatory budgets or the intent of the donor and government agencies behind them. The involvement of poor and marginalized people in participatory budget schemes should not be confused with compliance with the goals of those schemes.

The subtle and hidden forms of agency that poor and marginalized people exercise within participatory budgets spaces should not be romanticized as resistance to ‘good governance’ initiatives intended to promote neoliberal globalization, but nor should it be overlooked. For practitioners and scholars alike, a greater understanding of the infrapolitics of participatory budgets requires more careful interpretation of what participants say and do not say in participatory budget meetings and a recognition that what they reveal quietly outside of those meetings may be more indicative of their priorities than what they say in public.

Read full article at allacademic

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: