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The Politics of Local Participatory Democracy In Latin AmericaInstitutions, Actors, and Interactions$

Françoise Montambeault

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780804795166

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804795166.001.0001

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How Does Success Vary?

How Does Success Vary?

Redefining Democratic Success

(p.18) Two How Does Success Vary?
The Politics of Local Participatory Democracy In Latin America

Françoise Montambeault

Stanford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 2 makes the case for a redefinition of the democratic success of local participatory democracy, determined by the nature of the state-society relationships that develop through formal and informal participatory interactions. The chapter presents a typology to account for variation along the two defining dimensions of state-society relationships: the nature of mobilization (from individual to collective forms) and the level of autonomy of the participants (from controlled to autonomous). It defines the four ideal types used throughout the book to categorize the diversity of empirical outcomes observed across cases: clientelism, disempowering cooption, fragmented inclusion, and democratic cooperation.

Keywords:   democracy, accountability, social inclusion, democratic success, state-society relationships, autonomy, mobilization

After more than two decades of local participatory democracy experiments, there is still not a clear understanding of what success means. Citizen participation in municipal decision-making processes at the local level is often regarded as a means of deepening democracy, that is, improving the quality of what has been described as the “incomplete,” “electoral,” or “delegative” democracies of Latin America (Diamond 2002; O’Donnell 1996; Schedler 1998). As a democratic project aimed at bringing citizens into the decision-making process at the local level, participatory democracy is thus considered an alternative to elitist democracies in Latin America (Dagnino, Olvera, and Panfichi 2006).

A variety of formal participatory mechanisms have been implemented in Latin America, including participatory budgeting, urban and policy planning councils, citizen-participation councils, etc. Yet the current literature on the consequences of such reforms suggests that they have had mixed results in terms of poverty reduction, social inclusion, or democratization. Success is both understood and measured very differently across such studies. This chapter addresses this gap and provides a comprehensive (p.19) conceptual framework for understanding the complex and variable nature of democratic success.

Unpacking Democratic Success: Toward a Comprehensive Understanding

Participatory institutions in Latin America have been widely scrutinized in the recent literature, on the basis of several—sometimes competing—assumptions about the definition of democratic success, or democracy in general. Such studies look at a wide range of impacts: the institutionalization of civil society, participation in the public sphere, redistributive policy performance, the vitality of associational life, empowerment, or electoral outcomes. Nonetheless, as pointed out by Wampler and McNulty (2011), we still lack a thorough understanding of how these factors affect democracy and the quality of its practices and institutions. One reason for that is that although everyone talks about the conditions explaining the “success” of local participatory democracy, the meaning of success remains under-theorized and there is no consensus on what is entailed in participatory democracy being successful. Participatory mechanisms’ success is often assumed to be “democratic,” but not much attention is given to define what democratic deepening is, creating confusion in the actual assessment of success.

How democracy should be defined, operationalized, and evaluated has been vigorously debated. The emergence of various types of political democracies led to recognition that the development of “high quality” democracy was to be sustained; a reconceptualization of democracy was needed. Beyond the “operational” definition, democracy is a model of governance that is founded on the principles of liberty and equality, and is upheld by an effective rule of law applied equally and indiscriminately to all citizens (Held 2006; Diamond 1999). Evaluating and fostering democracy should not exclusively involve implementing formal procedures that sustain these two principles, but should also be concerned with the content and the results of the governance process. In fact, free, fair, and regularly held elections do not guarantee a model of democracy that “provide[s] its citizens a high degree of freedom, political equality, and popular control over public policies and policy makers through the legitimate and lawful functioning (p.20) of stable institutions” (Diamond and Morlino 2005, xi). Democratic quality therefore has two dimensions—social inclusion and accountability—both defined by the way the state and society interact.

Democracy as Citizenship and Social Inclusion

Central to the quality of democracy is the notion of social inclusion, of inclusive citizenship regimes. According to T. H. Marshall, “those who possess citizenship status are equal with respect to the rights and duties with which the status is endowed” (Marshall 1950). Being a citizen indeed means possessing civic, political, and social rights, as well as duties. This status cannot, however, be considered undifferentiated, as Marshall did. Individual rights associated with citizenship are not automatically granted by the state; they are most often achieved through different forms of collective struggle and negotiations, the result of cooperation and conflict between the state and society (Foweraker and Landman 1997). Citizenship is not just a status, it is an “instituted process,” a “set of institutionally embedded social practices contingent upon and constituted by networks of relationships” (Somers 1993, 589), among and between the state and society. As Held (1992) argued, citizenship indeed results from the efforts of different groups, movements, and classes to gain more autonomy and control over their lives in the face of various forms of stratification, hierarchy, and political oppression. The concept of citizenship regime (Jenson 2001) is useful to capture this idea. In effect, citizenship regimes include institutional arrangements, rules, and understandings that establish the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion of a political community through formal recognition of particular rights (civil, political, social, and cultural; individual and collective). There are, therefore, three dimensions of citizenship, which not only tie the state and its citizens together in a reciprocal relationship within the political community but also link the citizens among themselves: rights and responsibilities, access, and belonging1 (Jenson and Papillon 2001). These state-civil society interactions and the struggle of civil society, demanding equal citizenship rights and social inclusion while resisting subordination to the state, have also been defined as the “social construction of citizenship” (Oxhorn 2003), which entails dimensions of negotiation and bargaining where civil society is a crucial actor. In fact, civil society organizations “serve the main function of instilling citizenship, (p.21) the participation in social life that takes a person […] to a recognition of what promotes the common good” (Hudson 2003, 213).

Because the inclusiveness of a citizenship regime rests on the ability of the state to confer political, social, and civil rights on citizens, its improvement is closely linked to development of a strong and inclusive civil society that engages in a cooperative relationship with the state. Further, as Jenson notes, the boundaries of citizenship are determined by a reciprocal relationship between the state and individuals within the political community (Jenson and Papillon 2001), to which the development of an autonomous and inclusive civil society is crucial. Because they include this reciprocal state-society relationship, citizenship regimes are about rights and responsibilities, but also about access and belonging. Historically, in most Latin American countries citizenship regimes remained limited to certain segments of the population (often on the basis of favoritism and political privileges); civic and political rights were nonexistent for the majority of the population, and social rights were not extended to all citizens. In today’s young Latin American democracies, the extent to which citizenship is fully granted is one of the main criteria used to evaluate the quality of these new regimes. Such regimes have, we will see, inherited weak civil societies and strong political elites perpetuating clientelistic state-society relationships that have adapted to democratic change. This precludes further deepening and consolidation of democracy.

Democracy as State Accountability and the Rule of Law

The visible lack of accountability mechanisms in new democracies challenges the development of inclusive democratic citizenship regimes, and of higher-quality democracies (Schedler, Diamond, and Plattner 1999; Mainwaring and Welna 2003). O’Donnell (1998, 2005) indeed showed that the absence of or deficiencies in accountability mechanisms present a challenge to the effectiveness of the rule of law, the guarantee for a certain level of responsiveness from the state, and, more important, universal application of and undifferentiated access to the fundamental rights of citizenship for all citizens.

Simply put, accountability is “the process of holding [political] actors responsible for their actions” (Fox 2007, 28). In politics, the concept of accountability refers more specifically to three important underlying (p.22) ideas: answerability, of politicians’ obligation to inform the public about the nature of their actions and to explain them; responsibility, of public officials with regards to their actions; and enforcement, the capacity for the “accountability agents” to sanction the “powerholders” wrongdoings (Schedler 1999; Mainwaring 2003). Accountability therefore entails a relationship between the state, politicians, and society with multidirectional linkages establishing an array of vertical (connecting citizens to their representatives) and horizontal (checks and balances) mechanisms. An important source of accountability in democracies is the existence of free and fair electoral procedures that guarantee a certain degree of “vertical accountability” between citizens and the state. Elections indeed constitute the primary mechanism that allows citizens to sanction or reward the actions and decisions of their politicians. For both structural and contextual reasons, it has, however, been argued that elections are not an entirely reliable mechanism of accountability. First, most powerholders and decision makers are not elected: the elected representatives, who are directly accountable to the voters, appoint them. Second, held every few years and attempting to consolidate a variety of interests and opinions, elections do not send clear signals to individual politicians (Przeworski, Stokes, and Manin 1999). Contextual factors must also be taken into account. Even if or when sanctions could be imposed on an individual basis, elections are held in the context of imperfect information about the workings of government and particularly poor public information available on the behaviors of individual politicians (Ackerman 2003). Though they are problematic as a vertical accountability mechanism in general, these shortcomings are exacerbated in Latin America and other new democracies, where elections are not complemented by other strong sources of accountability, among them horizontal and social accountability (O’Donnell 1998; Schedler 1999; Mainwaring 2003; Moreno, Crisp, and Shugart 2003).

The newly elected democratic regimes of Latin America often lacked efficient “horizontal accountability.” Referring to an array of organizations and checks and balances within the state that are “willing and able to take actions in relation to actions or omissions by other agents or agencies of the state that may be qualified as unlawful” (O’Donnell 1998, 117), horizontal accountability is central to the quality of democratic governance. It codifies the idea that the branches of the state—generally the judiciary, the legislative, and the executive—should “restrain” one another through (p.23) a series of institutional checks and balances (Schedler et al. 1999). In Latin American “delegative” democracies, however, executives are the most powerful branch of government, and other central agencies are often ignored and their autonomy curtailed. If superintendence agencies—nonelectoral and independent institutions such as the ombudsman, controller general, or general prosecutor—were created to oversee the actions of the executive, they remain creatures of this executive and are dependent on it for their own survival and existence. They do not, therefore, enjoy the genuine autonomy they would need to impose sanctions on central authorities—if and when necessary (Moreno et al. 2003). This is especially true in presidential models found in several Latin American countries such as Mexico and Brazil. Here, the central executive has kept the lion’s share of powers, even after the transition to democratic regimes at all levels of government. Horizontal accountability is thus consistently undermined (O’Donnell 1994), and limits the quality of democratic governance in Latin America.

In this context, strengthening and mobilizing civil society is essential for stimulating both types of accountability mechanisms and “making democracy work” (Schmitter 1999; Diamond 2008, 310; Smulovitz and Peruzzoti 2000). Social or societal accountability entails not only the existence of effective vertical and horizontal accountability mechanisms but also the involvement of an active and autonomous civil society that can hold the government responsible for its actions and decisions. Social accountability is thus defined as a mechanism that “rests on the actions of a multiple array of citizens’ associations and movements” that, via the media and public action, are able to set the agenda and expose the wrongdoings of their representatives (Smulovitz and Peruzzoti 2000). It is a mechanism for improving the quality of democracy from the perspective of social action, the effectiveness of which rests upon “organized civil society able to exert influence on the political system and on public bureaucracies” (2000, 150). That recent Latin American democracies such as Mexico and Brazil are weak in this area, however, continues to pose a challenge to development of inclusive citizenship regimes and government accountability.

Deepening Democracy: What Does It Mean?

Looking at the quality of democratic governance through both inclusiveness and accountability dimensions uncovered how closely its deepening (p.24) is intertwined with the nature of state-society relationships. Today’s struggle for the deepening of democracy in Latin America is, in effect, closely related to the persistence of unequal and often clientelistic state-society relations in the region, nurtured by the historical weakness of civil society and by democratic institutions molded through mostly elitist democratic transitions. If access to power through formal institutions is now secured, the quality of democratic rule also means the actual exercise of power (Mazzuca 2010) through accountability mechanisms and inclusive citizenship rights, which mostly depends on informal institutions and the nature of state-society relations. Transforming the way citizens are linked to the state and its officials on the one hand and to civil society organizations on the other is a central aspect of improving the quality of Third Wave democratic regimes.

To deepen democratic quality, the existence and participation of a strong, autonomous, and inclusive civil society able to organize collectively and press demands on the state are essential (Oxhorn 2001). Civil society is not conceived as being in opposition to or in constant conflict with the state as suggested by the liberal-individual perspective (Diamond 1999). It is not isolated from the state, but rather the nexus between society and the state. It is thus defined with a collectivist perspective as “the social fabric formed by a multiplicity of self-constituted territorially- and functionally-based units which peacefully coexist and collectively resist subordination to the state, at the same time as they demand inclusion into the national political structures” (Oxhorn 1995, 251–52). This definition includes all types of social groups, associations, neighborhood committees, social movements, and even ethnic groups. It is important to emphasize, however, that civil society is by no means a homogeneous category; it is composed of a variety of groups with distinct strategies and interests. Moreover, although civil society as a whole plays a role in supporting democracy, the organizations within civil society themselves do not need to be explicitly democratic.2 Inclusiveness and autonomy are, however, both concepts at the core of civil society that refer to its constitutive relationship: with the state (autonomy) on the one hand and with society (inclusion) on the other. Thus, depending on the strength of civil society, but also on the nature of its formal and informal interactions with society and the state, the quality of democracy will vary (accountability; citizenship rights and social inclusion). The quality of democratic governance is therefore the reflection of both formal and (p.25) informal interactions among individual and collective actors of the public sphere, from both sides: the state and society.

How the state and society interact with one another in formal and informal institutions defines the depth of a democracy. The study of these interactions is especially important to understanding the democratic success of participatory institutions in Latin America, which provide formal and informal channels for such a relationship to flourish, and possibly change.

Redefining Participatory Democracy’s Success: Varieties of State-Society Relationships

In Latin America, efforts at deepening democracy—or the transformation of state-society relationships—partly went through the opening of new public/institutional spaces for direct citizen participation that bolsters social inclusion and strengthens social accountability. In theory, these venues allow state and society to work with one another, to cooperate with one another through direct engagement of citizens in the governance process (Dagnino 2002; Dagnino et al. 2006; Baiocchi 2003). It is in this context that local participatory democracy emerged as an alternative to the “elitist forms” of democracy in Latin America (Avritzer 2002; Nylen 2003). Increasingly, participation was recognized as having a “transformative” potential, associated with democratization. If citizen participation, and more particularly spaces for participation invited by the state, are praised for their “transformative” potential (Cornwall 2008), it is thus in these terms its (un)successes should be defined and understood. Participatory mechanisms constitute new forms of intermediation between the state and society, new channels for the articulation of their relationship. Although most of the recent scholarship does not explicitly address it, their assessments of the variety of possible outcomes for participatory democratic innovations generally implicitly presuppose a transformation in state-society relationships. It is, however, precisely the nature of such (un)changing relationships—how political and society actors relate to one another—that should be the main indicator of participatory institutions’ democratic success. A comprehensive theory of local participatory democracy therefore builds on the existing literature and makes this focus on (un)changing state-society relationships (p.26) explicit, defines and empirically documents the variation in types of state-society relationships across cases, and then explains such variation and its differentiated impact on the quality of participatory democratic processes.

What Is Democratic Success of Participatory Institutions All About? Confusion over a Definition

Scholarship on participatory democracy in Latin America and elsewhere evolved from a focus on the causes of local participatory innovations to an interest in the consequences of their implementation. With such a change in focus came two intertwined developments in participatory democratic theory that deeply influenced empirical assessments of local experiences in Latin America. First, assuming participation had an inherently positive (transformative) impact on the various dimensions of democratic deepening was misguided. Invited spaces for citizen participation were, in practice, particularly context-sensitive and permeable to political manipulation (Cornwall 2008), which made a positive outcome very uncertain. Second, the supposedly “transformative” effect of participatory innovation had been conceptually overlooked, and needed to be unpacked to reflect the various outcomes observed empirically. The range of possible outcomes for participatory reforms could be measured from a number of perspectives, all more or less clearly associated with the concept of deepening democracy defined in terms of institutionalization and stability, institutional change, public policies, associational vitality and participation rates, transparency, and so on.

If empirical studies have clearly moved away from the “celebratory phase,” now accounting for the inherently uncertain results of participatory reforms (Avritzer 2009b), we still lack a comprehensive understanding of how such reforms affect democracy (Wampler and McNulty 2011), and the quality of its institutions, processes, and practices. This is partly due to confusion over the definition and the indicators of the most successful outcome participatory democracy could have: “democratic deepening.” There are three main ways by which the “democratic” impact of local participatory democracy has been assessed in recent scholarship. First, democratic deepening has been looked at from the perspective of civil society empowerment, that is, increasing participation rate, the vitality of CSOs and community activism at the local level as indicators of democratic success (Baiocchi 2005; Wampler and Avritzer 2004; Nylen 2003; Canel (p.27) 2011). Second, the quality of government and the efficiency of accountability mechanisms have also been a way of defining democratic success, measured through indicators of public policy performance, and government responsiveness (Peruzzoti 2012). Third, social justice and well-being are also measured through redistributive impacts, poverty, and inequality reduction (Touchton and Wampler, 2014; Boulding and Wampler 2010). Together, these indicators document the range and variety of impacts participatory democracy innovations can have. Taken separately, however, they all remain only partial assessments of their impact on the quality of democracy—its inclusiveness and accountability. While the scholarship looks more or less directly at the transformative potential of participatory democracy, it assesses this transformation on either the state or society. Deepening democracy, however, means transforming both the state and society, and their relationship. Thus, focusing on changes and continuities in the nature of state-society relationships emerging through and around participatory mechanisms is a much better indicator of democratic deepening and, I contend, yields a better understanding of how participatory innovation affects democracy, and its institutions, processes, and, most important, practices.

How Do State-Society Relationships Matter?

Participatory democracy scholars do not explicitly understand democratic deepening as the product of a transformation of state-society relationships, even though institutionalized spaces for citizen participation are assumed to have a “transformative” potential. Enduring clientelism is nonetheless often considered to be the manifestation of traditional and unequal relationships that weaken the quality of democracy, which participatory mechanisms should contribute to overcoming.

Participatory democracy provides citizens with formal channels through which to make demands of the state regarding its redistribution priorities and for the state to respond to these demands. Under the right institutional and historical circumstances, it is argued, these new channels not only increase the transparency and responsiveness of the redistributive process but can also decrease the need (and possibly the will) to resort to clientelistic forms of political exchange in which resources are unequally allocated to those with privileged and personal access to the state. Among the first observers of PB in Porto Alegre, Rebecca Abers’ account concludes that it (p.28) “mobilized neighborhood groups, discouraged clientelistic forms of neighborhood action” (Abers 1998, 512). Comparing three Brazilian participatory mechanisms, Avritzer suggests that PB presents an alternative to traditional forms of political mediation, and leads to better equity in distribution of public resources, reinforcing neighborhood associations that structure the public space, and “undermining the traditional patterns of patronage, political favors, privatism” (Avritzer 2009b, 21). In the same vein, Baiocchi contends that Porto Alegre has achieved social justice through better redistribution and more civic spirit and legitimacy, as well as good governance, meaning transparency, increased resources, and reduced clientelism (Baiocchi 2005). The fundamental characteristic of PB is that it “marks a dramatic break in the patronage-driven politics that have long dominated municipal budgeting in Brazil. (…) Devolving decision-making authority downward and into the hands of local actors increases transparency” (Baiocchi et al., 8–9). Thus, because it empowers civil society and aims at increasing state accountability and transparency, that is, reducing or eliminating corruption and clientelism, PB has the potential to deepen democratic practices (Goldfrank 2011), a vision that is widely present in the participatory democracy literature.

Conversely, institutional innovation for participatory democracy does not necessarily mean the disappearance of clientelistic ties and of patron-client relationships (Wampler 2007; Garcia-Guadilla and Perez 2002; Montambeault 2011; Montambeault and Goirand 2015). There are different modes of linking politicians and citizens in democratic polities, and clientelism is one of them. As an informal relationship between politicians and citizens, clientelism is not static and could survive a transition to democracy: it can take various forms and functions and it can adapt to the new context where political parties become clientelistic machines (Eisenstadt and Roniger 1981; Roniger 1994). As Kitschelt (2000) has suggested, “modern” clientelism can be institutionalized and, as such, can function as a means of securing the stability and durability of democratic regimes. Traditional face-to-face patron-client ties are incorporated into a broader and more impersonal institutional framework, usually political parties (Lemarchand 1981). As the Mexican case suggests, clientelism can be sustained as a strategic response to growing popular participation in order to secure votes at the local level and to increase political influence at the center, a classic strategy employed by political entrepreneurs to gain (p.29) power within state institutions (Fernández-Kelly and Shefner 2006; Piattoni 2001). The exchange is understood less in terms of a personal relationship between two individuals and more as defined by political parties and included within the activity of the elected governments, through targeted programs and policies that aim to secure the support of certain social groups and clients (Roniger 2004; Gay 1998). As explained by Kitschelt and Wilkinson (2007), politicians’ accountability then does not rest on the ability to deliver public services and policies according to their program, but rather on their ability to satisfy their clients’ needs, which they call clientelistic accountability. Thus, as clientelism is an evolving informal structure, it can adapt to the new democratic institutional forms, including participatory democracy, with leaders and clients finding new ways to define their relationship and linkages (Montambeault and Goirand 2015).

Although strengthening clientelistic relationships may be a common outcome of participatory democracy, the conventional dichotomy between democracy and clientelism is problematic. Looking at their micro-articulation through an ethnographic approach that accounts for how formal and informal power relationships play out between the state and society, but also within each of these groups of actors, reveals the inherent limits to this dichotomy. It does not allow us to fully grasp the inherently complex and multifaceted nature of state-society relationships in participatory institutions, and it also falls into the trap of conceptual stretching, including as clientelistic some forms of relationships and practices that would best be otherwise defined (Hilgers 2011). Democracy does not mean everything that is not clientelistic, and clientelism does not mean everything that is not democratic. As Latin American countries and cities transition toward pluralistic and competitive democratic regimes, social relations and political exchanges have become more complex than the reality this categorical dualism could capture. To attain a more comprehensive theory of local participatory democracy, we must redefine success, accounting for the way state-society relationships shape the quality of democracy, and also for the range of state-society relationships that may emerge from the formal and informal interactions in participatory mechanisms. A better definition and differentiation of the complex reality of state-society relations not only is conceptually important but also has serious theoretical implications. The variation in levels of success observed across local participatory experiences, in the transformation of state-society relationships, reveals the wide (p.30) and differentiated range of impacts these institutional reforms have on the deepening of the quality of democracy.

This book’s approach to understanding the variation in level of democratic success of participatory innovations in part builds on the argument from Baiocchi et al. (2011) for a relational approach, looking at what they call “existing civil societies,” or an understanding of civil society that bridges the traditional institutional-associational divide. Participatory democracy innovations are, theoretically at least, meant to deepen the quality of local democratic governance by allowing members of a society to engage with the state in the social construction of effective citizenship.3 Their assumption is that the existence of a strong civil society—defined as a “space of practices” and not only as the realm of civic associations that conforms it—remains the main determinant of democratization in PB experiences. Although they look at civil society in relational terms that include the “regime of state-society relationships in creating a context for the functioning of civil society” (Baiocchi et al. 2011), their findings still focus only on the practices of civil society per se. The focus of the argument is a bit different, though, as it contends that participatory institutions might create opportunities for civil society to emerge and thrive, at the same time that they also affect how political and state actors think and strategize about policy responses to social demands, about their linkages with their constituents, and about the democratic process more generally. Moreover, and this is something revealed by moving the comparison beyond the Brazilian cases, participatory democracy mechanisms do not affect only how civil society engages with the local state but also how individuals engage with civil society organizations, and in certain cases directly with the state. Hence, even though participatory democracy may have an impact on civil society and the way it engages with the local state, state-society relationships cannot be subsumed to civil society and should be assessed on their own.

A focus on state-society relationships that brings out their complexity requires not only that we redefine the traditional clientelism-democracy categories, but also that we look at their micro-articulations in both formal and informal institutions. This is especially important for the study of participatory democracy institutions, as they can create spaces for this transformation to happen, for civil society to become a more autonomous, sustaining, or “bootstrapping” democracy. Looking at both the formal (regulated by participatory mechanisms) and informal practices (around and (p.31) outside the mechanisms) reveals that this is not necessarily the case. Civil societies—or the relationships between the state and society—are not necessarily reconfigured through extended participation, because such a transformation depends on institutional opportunities as well as on politics. Participatory democracy creates a public space sanctioned by the state and can empower civil society actors, but it is the way it is used and appropriated by both state and society actors that matters more in understanding the micro-articulations of their relationship, the quality of the democratic process, and the outcomes that result from such participation.

Varieties of State-Society Relationships: A Typology

Central to society’s strength and ability to engage in democratic relationships and practices with the state is its capacity to mobilize and organize, as well as its autonomy vis-à-vis the state. Focusing on the nature of state-society relationships as the main indicator of success entails reconceptualization of the notion of participation itself and of the associated mobilization processes. The nature of state-society relationships in participatory processes mostly depends on which groups and actors enter the spaces of participation, and how they do it. On the one hand, if the central tenet of the literature on local participatory governance is the idea that citizen participation matters, it is not just the quantitative but also the qualitative aspect of citizen participation that needs to be taken into account. What matters is not only that civic organizations and individuals participate but also “who comes to represent citizens in the participatory spheres” (Cornwall and Coelho 2007, 6). In fact, what makes these particular initiatives different from previous approaches to participation is that they explicitly conceive of participation as the exercise of citizenship, as “the practice though which individuals and groups formulate and claim for new rights of struggle to expand or maintain existing rights” (Isin and Wood 1999, 4). On the other hand, there is also a need to look at citizen participation in relation to the state, its institutions, and its members, including elected politicians, because their goals and strategies toward participation have an important impact on the capacity of civil society to become an autonomous space for citizens to collectively interact and press demands on the state.

(p.32) In order to identify the conditions for success of local participatory institutions, a typological theory (George and Bennett 2004) is developed to better assess the nature of democratic success and look at the range of possible state-society relationship outcomes. In fact, participation per seremains an ambiguous ideal that needs to be qualified to make more sense in decision-making processes (de Sousa Santos and Avritzer 2004). In an institutionalized context, citizen participation is different from what it is in noninstitutional spaces, presupposing close interactions between the state and society within formal public spaces occupied by both types of actors. This institutionalization of participation can be “transformative,” but it also comes with a set of specific challenges. As Warren has suggested, governments can “coopt civil society organizations [and individual participants] in such a way that they lose their capacities to represent their constituencies” (Warren 2009, 11). This lack of autonomy strengthens exclusion and weakens accountability mechanisms. Civil society organizations are also unevenly capable of organizing, demanding, and delivering public policy outcomes in cooperation with the local state, favoring already strong organizations (Warren 2009; Nylen 2003). Participatory institutions do not necessarily engage collective actors into mobilization processes, and may fragment society rather than foster community building and civil society organization. For all these reasons, even though it is important to identify who participates, it is critical to understand how they do so—in relation to both the local state and the larger society (Cornwall 2008).

The Two Dimensions of State-Society Relationships

In the context of participatory governance, two main dimensions thus define the nature of emerging state-society relationships: how participants are mobilized as individuals or as collective actors, and the level of autonomy enjoyed by participants in their interactions with the state. Both dimensions are central to the argument that deepening the quality of democracy not only is a matter of institutions or civil society organizations but most importantly requires a deep transformation in state-society relationships: the state and society. It looks at the relation between the state and society as co-constitutive but also moves beyond the focus on civil society and, as such, accounts for the mechanisms underlying this relationship, from both sides. Mobilization and autonomy uncover the formal and informal mechanisms and practices (p.33) defining their interactions, how they engage in the participatory process as complex actors with internal dynamics and in interaction with one another. This approach provides for a better account of how the state, society, and their relationships are co-constituted and transformed within the formal spaces of participation, but also through practices of social mobilization and strategies of political control deployed by state actors.

It is the variation along the two dimensions that, together, contributes to identifying the range of outcomes for local participatory democracy institutions across cases, creating four ideal types of state-society relationships (see Figure 2.1, p. 37).4 As the comparative case study shows, these types have differentiated effects on the deepening of democracy. A cooperative relationship between an inclusive and responsive local state and a strong and autonomous civil society within decentralized institutions allowing collective mobilization processes is more likely to become “democratizing,” that is, to sustain the strengthening of accountability mechanisms and the social construction of citizenship rights by giving voice to the previously excluded and universalizing access to basic services and public goods. Conversely, the sustainability of clientelism—based on unequal exchanges, informal ties, and personal connections—hinders participatory institutions from becoming “democratizing,” sustaining social exclusion and inefficient accountability mechanisms. Beyond this binary conception of state-society relationships, and reflecting their complexity, intermediary outcomes also arise with, as we shall see, more ambiguous effects on the deepening of democracy: disempowering cooption and fragmented inclusion.

Type of Mobilization: Particularistic or Collective?

Citizen mobilization—how people organize and formulate claims and demands to the state—and their engagement in participatory processes can be carried out by individuals or through civil society organizations. Mobilization can therefore be individualistic and fragmented or collective and organized. As a corollary, demands formulated can also be articulated toward particularistic or collective aims. As the product of the struggle and cooperation patterns characterizing state-society relationships, the deepening of democracy should entail a specific concern for how citizens mobilize and engage in participatory processes, constitutive of the strength of civil society. This is especially true in contemporary democratizing societies, plagued with growing social inequalities and social exclusion articulated from the state. For local participatory institutions to contribute to the deepening of democracy, they need to enable and sustain (p.34) collective forms of social action geared toward defining the common good so as to nurture civil society’s organizational capacity and ability to enter into an equal relation with the state. In fact, organizational capacity is a crucial resource for those traditionally excluded segments of the population who lack influence and power (Rueschemeyer 1998, 9), such as the marginalized groups targeted by local participatory governance initiatives. Moreover, and even if their expression is more powerful, shared collective interests are not a given among extremely needy local communities; they are socially constructed. It is the process of collective organization that defines the common interest (Rueschemeyer 1998), shaping individuals’ preferences through the collective participation and deliberation process.

Mobilization types can be understood as a spectrum, ranging from the more organized and structured forms of collective action, where individuals participate as members of groups organized around a variety of collectively defined interests, to the most particularistic, fragmented, and individual forms of citizen participation.5 Even if numerical indications of the way people mobilize and the number of public meetings held in each case can reveal certain patterns of mobilization, they cannot account for actual and often informal mobilization practices, which only interviews can reveal. Indicators of the nature of mobilization are found in the nature of participants (groups vs. individuals), in the level of organization among citizens prior to their participation in formal meetings, in the existence of active collaborative networks among participants and/or groups, and in the nature of the demands formulated (individual needs vs. collective goods). The more mobilization is particularistic and oriented toward private goods, the less impact formal mechanisms of participation at the local level have on transforming unequal and state-society relationships on the basis of personal connections and informal exchanges, and the less likely they are to become effective accountability mechanisms fostering inclusive citizenship. By contrast, the more mobilization is collectivistic and oriented toward the common good, the more formal mechanisms can become a space for developing a strong civil society that can interact with the state in a more cooperative and democratic relationship, thereby strengthening accountability and deepening democracy at the local level.

Level of Autonomy: From Controlled to Autonomous Participation

How citizens mobilize and engage in participatory mechanisms is important to the transformation of state-society relationships. However, the level of (p.35) autonomy citizens and CSOs enjoy in their interactions with the local government is even more crucial in defining the possibilities for citizens to actually influence the course of the local governance process meaningfully. According to the early observers of participatory mechanisms in developing countries, one of the main problems was that their introduction into local governance institutions involved the state, which was itself the source of power inequalities in the first place. They argue that participatory mechanisms should only involve direct and independent participation of all citizens, that is, of the entire community (MacPherson 1982; Midgley 1986). This conception, however, fails to consider the fact that the state is central to enactment of participatory reforms. The state is the main actor involved in power and resource redistribution from which civil society cannot be isolated (Dagnino 2002; Dagnino et al. 2006). The state is also the central actor in formulating and implementing policies that affect the community (Mejía Líra 1999). Isolating the community from the state does not maximize the democratizing potential of citizen participation, as the direct interlocutor of participatory processes and citizens. However, defining autonomy in the specific context of institutional spaces for participation presents specific challenges, as the frontier between the state and social actors can become blurred and closer to a form of “political interdependency” (Avritzer 2009a). Autonomy within state channels is indeed very distinct from autonomy from the state. To fully understand how varying levels of autonomy for participants in institutionalized forms of citizen participation interact with the deepening of democratic processes, some analysis of the nature of this autonomy is in order.

Autonomy refers to the ability of citizens to participate by formulating preferences and defending their own interests within various channels of the political system without being overly influenced by already organized and represented political forces. Autonomous participation is not a given, however, as participants and institutional mechanisms can be controlled and coopted by leading and influential traditional actors such as political parties and their civil society affiliates, politicians, or the bureaucracy. To measure the level of autonomy citizens enjoy, the degree of involvement of political parties in the various steps of the societal representatives’ selection and of their decision-making process is therefore an important indicator. This is because party members—elected representatives, nonelected members of the parties, and party-affiliated organizations—may capture (p.36) participatory mechanisms and control them or their main leaders through informal mechanisms in order to influence and guide the decision-making process in a way that serves the party or the governing elites’ interests, undermining social accountability mechanisms. This control goes beyond the existence of political affinities between participants and the political representatives who initiate and promote local participatory mechanisms: these affinities can exist and are not used as a proxy for observing often subtler forms of political control and lack of autonomy on the part of participants. Political control, and consequent lack of autonomy, relies on the existence of underlying power structures, often expressed through informal exchanges between unequal participants, where political actors control both the channels for formulating demands and the means for redistribution. Thus the only way to really grasp such informal interactions is to conduct thorough interviews with diverse actors and compare their stories about participation in such mechanisms.

Autonomy allows citizens to express dissent and organize independently in order to actually hold politicians and their officials accountable, responsible for their decisions and actions. Clientelism, however, limits autonomy because it creates groups of clients who participate in the political community as beneficiaries of the patrons’ unequal access to power and resources, in a relationship of control, where political support for the incumbents is the prerequisite for receiving necessary state resources. Citizen autonomy can be understood as a spectrum ranging from completely autonomous forms of citizen participation, in which all actors are engaged in the mechanisms of participation as equal partners with the state officials, to “controlled” forms of participation where the participatory mechanisms are captured by the political elite and political parties through informal practices and methods that preclude the autonomous participation of citizens. The more controlled participation is, the less impact formal mechanisms of participation at the local level have in transforming exclusionary clientelistic state-society relationships and, in turn, becoming effective accountability mechanisms and fostering inclusive citizenship. By contrast, the more participation is autonomous, the more formal mechanisms can become a space for developing a heightened cooperative and democratic relationship, thereby contributing to strengthening accountability and deepening democracy. (p.37)

How Does Success Vary?Redefining Democratic Success

Figure 2.1 A Typology of State-Society Relationships

The Four Ideal Types Defined

The first objective of this study is to better understand how cases vary if democratic deepening is measured by the transformative potential of local participatory democracy innovations on the state, society, and their relationships. As explained above, this transformation can be observed through two main processes: the nature of the mobilization processes they generate, ranging from collective to individual mobilization patterns, and the level of autonomy such participation reflects, ranging from controlled to autonomous participation. As shown in Figure 2.1, the variation on these two dimensions results in four ideal types:


A combination of a high level of political control over participatory mechanisms and participants and a predominance of individually based mobilization processes organized around the formulation and direct channeling of particularistic demands contributes to the predominance of clientelistic relationships beyond institutional reform.

The pervasiveness of unequal state-society relationships nurtured by the prevalence of clientelistic interactions in participatory institutions may (p.38) impair the democratizing value of participatory democracy reforms. Having unequal access to resources and power, the state and society relate to one another on the basis of an exchange of material or symbolic resources in return for political support and legitimacy. On the one hand, it puts society in a weak position vis-à-vis the state, curtailing its groups’ ability to collectively mobilize, demand inclusion, and engage in the social construction of citizenship. This, in turn, creates two classes of citizens: those who are clients and have access to the state and those who are not and are consequently excluded from having access to citizenship rights. On the other hand, it also limits the prospects for making vertical and social accountability more effective. It curtails citizens’ autonomy by placing them in a position of dependence vis-à-vis the state for obtaining material and symbolic resources. Autonomy, however, is central to strengthening social accountability mechanisms and, consequently, to deepening democratic governance quality (Fox 1994).

Disempowering Cooption

A combination of a high level of political control over participatory institutional mechanisms, participants, and the collective mobilization processes empowering civil society organizations on one side and citizens as collective actors in formulating demands on the other side sustains the development of disempowering cooption.

This type of relationship differs from clientelism, a dyadic relationship between individuals. By contrast, disempowering cooption involves collective actors, who mobilize and formulate demands for collective public goods. From the cooption of their main leaders by controlling political elites, collective actors enjoy an unequal and exclusive relationship with the state (Montambeault 2012). On the one hand, disempowering cooption allows civil society groups to organize and collectively demand inclusion. At the same time, however, this type of relationship creates privileged relationships with those who are coopted by the state, strengthening social exclusion. It also dis-empowers collective actors mobilized and engaged with the local state in participatory mechanisms by making their main leaders political brokers, whose legitimacy and power depends on their ability to access privileged political and economic resources for their community. The relationship remains unequal and exclusionary, and it curtails disempowered collective actors’ ability to play their democratic accountability role.

(p.39) Fragmented Inclusion

A combination of autonomy for participants within participatory mechanisms and of the individualistic mobilization processes engaging citizens pursuing particularistic demands independently of one another sustains development of fragmented inclusion.

This type of relationship is characterized by the autonomy of the individuals who participate with the local state actors in the process, but it differs from democratic cooperation. Participants are able to autonomously formulate demands of the state and are more likely to be included through formal institutional channels, but they do so individually, and not as collective actors mobilized as such. Society remains, however, fragmented through its participation in local decision-making mechanisms. Individuals may learn civil and democratic skills through the process, but it does not translate into the blossoming of organized and pluralistic CSOs that can collectively organize and demand inclusion. Decision making may be more transparent, but collective accountability mechanisms remain underdeveloped and weak, based on a disorganized and fragmented society. Thus, because mobilization remains individualistic, local participatory mechanisms are but limited spaces to foster the social construction of citizenship and make the local state accountable.

Democratic Cooperation

A combination of a high level of autonomy for participants in the formal channels provided by municipal participatory institutions with activation of collective mobilization processes at the grass roots tends to sustain the development of democratic cooperation between the state and society.

Cooperation does not mean that the state and society agree on priorities and on policy outcomes. Based on the mobilization of collective actors and an autonomous form of citizen participation, this cooperation implies a political interdependency between social actors and the state (Avritzer 2009a), but it is not antithetical to autonomy, that is, not synonymous with independence from the state, but rather autonomy within the state structures. In participatory democracy institutions, autonomy and collective action are central to cooperation, hence not substituting for or hampering other forms of collective action such as protest, public debate, or social mobilization outside the participatory apparatus. At the same time, such a relationship transforms the state and society in a way (p.40) that strengthens society’s ability to demand social inclusion of the state and collectively participate in the social construction of citizenship, but also to make societal and participatory accountability mechanisms more effective.

Addressing the link between the nature of state-society relations and the deepening of democracy from a comparative perspective, I argue that a cooperative relationship between an inclusive and responsive local state and a strong and autonomous civil society within decentralized institutions allowing collective mobilization processes at the grass roots is more likely to become “democratizing,” that is, lead to the social construction of more inclusive citizenship regimes and strengthen accountability mechanisms. On the contrary, the sustainability of clientelistic state-society relationships within participatory mechanisms tends to hinder their potential for becoming “democratizing” public spaces, sustaining unequal exchanges, the prevalence of informal ties and personal connections in resource redistribution, and, consequently, social exclusion and inefficient accountability mechanisms. Intermediate outcomes can also arise, such as fragmented inclusion and disempowering cooption, both having ambiguous consequences for the deepening of democracy and the social construction of citizenship, as we will see throughout the case analyses.

In contexts where clientelism is the traditional mode employed by the state to connect with society, development of such a cooperative and democratizing relationship cannot be explained exclusively by the existence of participatory institutions, which is the basic common feature of all the selected cases. Such a relationship is more likely to develop when the institutional change is undertaken in the presence of a combination of structural, institutional, and agency variables that, together, foster collective mobilization processes at the grass roots and autonomous forms of participation by civil society actors with the state. Such a theoretical proposition, as it entails observation of variation across cases along the two dimensions of the typology—mobilization and autonomy—needs to be empirically documented and explained further, a task that this book undertakes.


This chapter proposes that a reconceptualization of success is needed to better account for the “transformative” potential of participatory democracy (p.41) on the state, society, and their relationship, hence for the deepening of democracy. A typology of state-society relationships to understand how cases vary was developed along two dimensions: the nature of mobilization processes observed in participatory institutions, and the level of autonomy enjoyed by participants in the process. Four ideal types of state-society relationships can thus emerge from participatory institutions at the local level: clientelism, disempowering cooption, fragmented inclusion, and democratic cooperation.

Deepening the quality of democratic governance entails a deep change in state-society relationships—a challenge to which introducing local participatory democracy institutions could contribute, and one whose complex dynamics still need to be better understood from a comparative standpoint. However important their participation is, citizens and civil society actors cannot be considered in isolation from their relationship to state officials and politicians within participatory democracy itself. Politics is central to both the participatory and the decisional processes. Politicians have the capacity to use their privileged access to both material and symbolic resources, even within the framework of participatory democratic institutions (Montambeault 2011, 2012). They do not necessarily have the will to do so. On the other hand, social actors may have the will to resist political control, but in the particular context of the Latin American cases of participatory democracy they may not have the capacity to do so. Scarce resources directed toward the poor, who have no other access to power, can become a survival strategy (Combes 2011). The reasons these various combinations of will and capacity at the levels of both state and society actors are articulated in formal participatory mechanisms, but also in informal practices, yet remain unveiled. The next chapter offers an integrated approach to explain the variation in state-society relationships that builds on the idea that institutions might well provide a space for the emergence of democratic practices and renewed state-society relationships, but that politics matters. As such, it takes an innovative comparative approach within and across countries to look not only at the characteristics of participatory institutions but also at the actors involved (or not) in the process, their strategies, and their interactions.


(1.) According to their definition, the first dimension of citizenship, rights and responsibilities, includes what the state owes to its citizens; what they owe the state and each other in terms of civil, political, and social rights; and the associated responsibilities. The second dimension, access, is closely tied to the first one: citizens need concrete means of accessing those rights, to exercise them. The third dimension, belonging, relates to the boundaries of inclusion-exclusion within the political community: the state is crucial in determining those boundaries, (p.232) contributing to the development of a political identity among members (citizens) of the same community (Jenson and Papillon 2001).

(2.) The definition of civil society used, however, explicitly excludes business groups whose activities are mainly profit-seeking, and “uncivil” criminal groups using violent means to achieve their goals, acting without regard for the rule of law and outside of the political process. In fact, groups within an inclusive and democratic civil society should be able to peacefully coexist, which means its groups should agree on the idea that violence is an unacceptable type of social interaction.

(3.) Heller introduces a useful concept to recenter the democratic debate on what he calls effective citizenship, which refers not only to the status of citizenship (rights) but also to its practice, i.e., the actual ability of citizens to engage with the state, which is intimately linked to the deepening of democracy (2012).

(4.) We use the term ideal type, borrowed from Weber’s work, to emphasize the idea that the four types identified here are ideals: they represent the purest form of each relationship, which are unlikely to exist as such in reality. They accommodate, however, a clearer classification and understanding of the differences between the cases encountered in reality.

(5.) Wampler’s study of participatory budgeting in Brazil goes in this sense, showing that the mobilization of individuals (by opposition to CSOs) in participatory mechanisms often continues to resort to personal and direct connections to government officials (2012). However, mobilization is only one dimension of state-society relationships, and collective action can also become an exclusionary process when coopted through political control practices, a reality the two-dimensional typology of state-society relationships grasps.