Governance and Democracy katarsis survey Paper

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Socially Creative Strategies, Participatory Governance and 

Socio-economic Citizenship 

Collective self-management practices, not only in the workplace but also for service delivery 

in health, education, and housing, can foster innovative solutions to exclusionary dynamics. In 

their concrete agency, they stress a distinction, which has been blurred in liberal thought and 

in the praxis of welfare regimes during Fordism: public vs. state property. This distinction is 

highlighted by the cases of citizen’s governance of Porto Alegre and the Tower Colliery. 

Whereas in the former, the state was reorganized in a way to reinforce its public nature by its 

democratization, the latter case points towards the socialization of private property, opposing 

the concept of the nationalization of private property, which has been the dominant social-

democrat practice during Fordism (Przeworski 1980).  

Nevertheless, the partnership arrangements with so-called “third sector organisations” also 

point out various problems: in connection with the tendencies towards privatization, the third 

sector is sometimes treated as a cheaper alternative to the service provision by the state due to 

its reliance on voluntary or low-paid work. As the majority of these voluntary or low-paid 

workers are female, outsourcing of state functions can exacerbate income disparities between 

men and women (Appel et al. 2003). The growing importance of the third sector has led to the 

professionalization and bureaucratization of big service-providing NGOs (Fyfe 2005: 550ff.). 

Furthermore, problems concerning accountability occur, as Smith, Mathur and Skelcher 

(2006) show in their analysis of British third sector involvement in the provision of services

which has been promoted by the state via the “Private Finance Initiative” (Kerr 1998; 

Wakeford/Valentine 2001; Khadaroo 2005). In addition, the state continues to play an 

important role in initiating and steering the partnership. Last but not least, the decentralization 

of activities poses the danger of localism. Many social problems need to be solved on regional, 

national or international levels and cannot be tackled effectively on the local scale 

(Mohan/Stokke 2000; Defilippis et al. 2006; García 2006: 753). 

There is often a class bias to participatory settings: experiments with new forms of democratic 

municipal governance and decentralization of public power to boards of schools and 

kindergartens are directed towards the middle class. Participatory settings are often 

“dominated by élite-citizens often making strategic political alliances against other local 

actors” (Pløger 2007: 7; cf. also Andersen/Pløger 2007). Thus, “participatory democracy could 

lead to élitist democracy or technocracy” (García 2006: 751) – a tendency which can easily be 

worsened by the peripheral “inclusion” of critical social movements into participatory settings, 

which can be manipulated in new populist settings (cf. {Laclau, 2005 #1905}). If participation 










occurs for micro decisions while macro decisions are taken within elitist arrangements, it can 

lead to a “new tyranny” (Cooke/Kothari 2001). Participation should therefore be attentive to 

socioeconomic development, and not exclusively to politics. 

Under such conditions, participatory settings have the potential to improve the integration of 

local ideas and needs, the use of local knowledge and creativity as resources, an early 

identification of possible conflicts by the government, which stems from better insights into 

positive and negative consequences for the affected citizens (Pløger 2007). The case of Porto 

Alegre points out, that the potential concerning socially innovative strategies for social 

inclusion is expanded, if the participatory process is (1) open to all affected persons instead of 

being restricted to an “enlighted elite”, (2) if the participants possess decision-making power 

instead of a mere consulting position and (3) if the decisions within participatory settings 

concern socio-economic development. Furthermore, the democratization of the municipal 

budget in Porto Alegre also hints at the connection between material and formal democracy. A 

certain level of material security (time and money to participate) is a necessary precondition 

for participation. Participation in decisions directly related to material security can provide the 

basis for inclusive strategies as collective learning and empowerment processes are likely to 


These possibilities and problems make Swyngedouw (2005: 1993) insist that “socially 

innovative arrangements of governance-beyond-the-state are fundamentally Janus-faced, 

particularly under conditions in which the democratic character of the political sphere is 

increasingly eroded by the encroaching imposition of market forces that set the ‘rules of the 

game’”. Therefore, socially innovative practices have to be promoted carefully, as they can 

also lead to new forms of social exclusion. 

We propose that socially creative strategies need to engage with the notion of the public 

sphere as a socio-economic and political space, defined in terms of processes rather than of 

geographical borders, in which citizens have an incentive to lay aside “particular” interests and 

to adopt a “public interest” perspective. This was shown in different ways by the case studies 

of Porto Alegre and the Tower Colliery. In the first case, lobbying activities continued to exist, 

but as they were discussed within open settings, where formerly excluded parts of the 

populations were well-represented, instead of being negotiated by “enlighted elites” behind 

closed doors, this opened the space for the democratization of the local state. As decisions 

concerned the municipal budget as a whole instead of selected parts, such as in the case of LA 

21 in Vienna (Novy/Hammer 2007), the danger of only attracting the self-proclaimed experts

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