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Participation and Citizenship: Exploring Power for Change

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:30
John Gaventa
, Director, Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability, IDS
Marta Foresti, Research Fellow, ODI
Michel Pimbert, Sustainable Agriculture, Biodiversity and Livelihoods Programme, IIED
Lawrence Haddad, Director, IDS
Lawrence Haddad, in the chair, opened the meeting by stating that this was the fifth in the 'Development Horizons' series of meetings being co-hosted by IDS, IIED and ODI. He explained that some of the most important issues in development research and policy had been addressed in previous meetings and that the topic of today's meeting was no exception to this.

John Gaventa

John Gaventa started his presentation by stating that the three issues of power, democracy and citizenship are all interlinked. He explained the IDS strategy with regard to power, democracy and citizenship 2005-2010.

He then went on to explain that power is a highly contested and diverse concept and, as demonstrated by Steven Lukes' work, our own experiences affect how we conceptualise it. In addition to this however, power is a constantly changing concept which is further challenged by globalisation, as demonstrated by the work of Tony McGrew. There are changes taking place at both the local, national and global levels, and with the role of knowledge in a globalised world. Therefore, knowledge and research are themselves part of the power game.

Gaventa went on to assert that there has been a proliferation of spaces for citizen participation in governance, but increased participation alone does not necessarily alter power relations, nor bestow more power on citizens.

In asking how to assess the transformative potential of these new democratic spaces, in terms of the possibilities for effective, pro-poor citizen action, Gaventa then explained that there are three different types of spaces:

- spaces which are closed to citizens or to which they are 'uninvited'
- spaces into which citizens are invited by authorities
- spaces which are 'claimed' or created by citizens

Rather than being static, these three spaces are constantly changing and moving, and they are also all present at both the local, national and global levels. When investigating which of these spaces might work best for the poor, Gaventa asserted that the 'invited' space was subject to change as a result of outside pressure, i.e. from pro-poor activists. In addition, pro-poor strategies need to be linked across the local-national-global levels. If they aren't, only limited change will result. Citing an example, Gaventa explained that the 'Make Poverty History' (MPH) campaign had a strategy for global political change, but that this wouldn't be successful unless it also encompassed factors at the local and national levels too such as the elites which rule the poor at these levels.

Gaventa then asserted that if a third factor, 'power relationships' is added, along with three further types of power: visible, invisible and hidden, this results in a cube.

There are many examples which prevent or preclude the operation of certain forms of action or power. Visible power includes knowledge and research. Hidden power is the type of power which can mobilise citizens. This is a type of slow, social awareness which results in peoples' realisation of their rights.

Gaventa ssserted that the main challenge is therefore to identify strategies which can deal with each space, type and level of power at the same time. It is possible to turn the power cube like a Rubic's cube, so there are potentially 43 quintillion (billion billion) different combinations of types, spaces and levels of power and they are each very nuanced. This means that certain interventions may change one space but may not effect change in others. Gaventa explained that transformative change could happen only when both policy and citizen action were combined, and there are not many examples of this in development history.

Gaventa then went on to outline some case studies in which the power could be used to help understand the power dynamies at work:

- Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS) in Nigeria: in this case, the arena in which poverty issues had been defined was controlled by both the local and national NGOs, resulting in both closed and invited types of power spaces. The poverty strategy was thus a top-down strategy which had also acted to de-legitimise the locals' own space.
- Jubilee 2000 coalition: power in advocacy campaigns can be very challenging. The Jubilee coalition attempted to operate and build awareness across all levels - local, national and global. It did succeed in this to some degree, but this did result in a lot of tension. Despite this, the coalition did stay together and did succeed in putting the issue of debt on the public agenda.

In conclusion, Gaventa stated that it would probably be useful and necessary to add time as an additional factor when using/applying the power cube to situations, as different spaces could also open and close at any given time.

Marta Foresti

Marta Foresti opened her presentation by offering some general comments on both the concept of power, the different levels at which it operates, the spaces it forms (both physical and conceptual) and the forms it takes. She explained that thinking about the third of these, the spaces it forms was the most inspiring aspect of the power cube to her. In addition, the forms that power takes builds on various strands of ODI work on patronage, informal politics, etc.

In thinking about the implications of the power cube, Foresti asserted it necessitated a rethink of the traditional categories of actors, such as citizens, governments, donors, etc. It also necessitated a rethink of traditional approaches to power, such as the meaning of rights, participation, etc. The cube emphasises the theory rather than the practice of power relations and is the result of a cross-fertilisation of multidisciplinary approaches to thinking about power. As a final thought, she wondered whether culture was also an important factor that should be considered when thinking about power.

In outlining ODI's experience/work in this area, Foresti explained that much of this work had previously been carried out by the RAPID (Research and Policy in Development) group, but that there is now an increasing amount of interest in these issues from other, often new and different perspectives, especially with the rise of the governance agenda, rights, rural development, urbanisation, etc. She wondered whether perhaps this had resulted in a new language when talking about these issues. In addition, there was an increasing amount of interest from donors in these issues, which, she reflected, could be both a limitation and an opportunity.

In suggesting some possibilities for the way ahead, Foresti suggested that the rights debate may now become the 'rights plus' debate. Informal politics and neo-patrimonialism are also two areas to which future work would be relevant. Work on partnerships and networks (such as that currently being carried out by ODI's RAPID programme) is also relevant. In conclusion, Foresti suggested that this was an area which would possibility benefit from further collaboration by IDS, IIED and ODI.

Michel Pimbert

Michel Pimbert stated that he felt the power cube was a very useful thought-organising model when thinking about these issues. He did feel however that it would also be useful to distinguish between political, economic, social and/or cultural forms of power, as well as those forms accounted for in the cube.

He observed that the recent edition of the IDS Bulletin on this issue had examined the broader social aspects of power in more detail. He felt that statistics about multinational corporations could be useful in analysing certain types of power, such as economic power. Figures concerning city bonuses and indicators of the increasing gap between rich and poor for example, could be particularly useful in this case, as economic power is seen to be increasingly important. Pimbert also asserted that thinking about cultural and institutional forms of power was also important, especially in the context of analysing environmentally sustainable development.

Pimbert also asserted that power should not be conceptualised in isolation - it is fundamentally about peoples' lives and relationships. Discussions about power should be normative because it is useful to talk about what power relations should look like rather than what they are like. He conceded that this was a very value-laden way of looking at power, but that power is a value-laden concept.

Pimbert observed that it would be useful to move the power debate away from concepts of citizenship, as citizens should and could realise power themselves. With reference to a provocative quote about power, including references to economic, social and cultural citizenship. He asserted that this was unusual, libertarian and humanistic. He asserted that corporations and the state do not use this conception, and this has a bearing on how to use the cube.

With reference to IIED work on power, Pimbert asserted that, in attempting to influence policy processes, peoples' organisations and federations are increasingly trying to claim space in both rural and urban areas, and in doing so, are promoting non state-led forms of democracy. Many forms of representative democracy do not benefit the poor. Pimbert asserted that deliberative and inclusive democracies should be encouraged instead, which would help to strengthen voices which attempt to influence the agenda. This should happen at both the local, national and global levels and these citizens' spaces should be linked. This would result in a transnational coalition of people with power from the bottom up, which would address development and environment processes, such as the management of natural resources ecosystems. Emerging work on these types of transformative processes also includes work on nurturing the skills of citizens to ensure they are competent to participate in this way.


In the discussion which followed, comments and questions raised included:

- How can Lukes' notion of hidden and visible power be further unpacked, especially in terms of translating these from the local to the global levels?
- Politics is missing from this conceptualisation of power. Without this element, how is it possible to evaluate the outcomes, the quality of the decisions taken, and the resulting reduction in poverty? Understanding MPs as representatives of democracy and their role in leadership and change management, etc is crucial for this.
- How can the power cube be applied to failed, failing and fragile states? Elites in these countries believe that more participation by and space for citizen action will not help the state; they believe they need to be autonomous to achieve results, whereas others believe the opposite.
- If any combination of type, space and level of power is possible, are there any rules and regulations which inform the operation of the cube?
- What is the role/interest of donors in this approach to power and how sustainable is this approach?


John Gaventa offered the following comments in response:
- We often have an agenda ourselves, so the cube should be used more as a reflection tool, especially with regard to NGOs, donor agencies and change strategies.
- Strategies differ between states, e.g. between Angola and India. There is therefore a need to map different forms of power together, to identify where and what types of interventions might be possible. Most strategies start on the 'closed' side.
- In terms of politics, the cube is highly political - it analyses who has power where, etc and also takes account of participatory work. Behind it is a normative theory of democracy and a notion of deepening democracy. This also requires self-reflection and an examination of power within closed spaces.
- A 'good' democracy is partly based on voice - a lack of voice is part of the condition of poverty and powerlessness. How to strengthen identity and recognising a multi-dimensional concept of citizenship, like that for poverty, is also very important as citizen empowerment can occur through many channels.
- People from social movements 'valuise' their claimed space, conceiving this itself to be empowerment. This challenges the notion that change happens in the same way at all levels. There are other things going on at other levels and the question is how to link these other approaches simultaneously so that they work together to bring about change. Development professionals from all sectors should therefore come together to form alliances in order to break down these debilitating divisions.

Marta Foresti offered the following comments in response:
- There are lots of hard questions with regard to issues around power, and researchers working on these issues should be asking themselves hard questions too.
- With regard to the role of donors in power relations, the questions they ask of researchers are often evaluative in nature. They only have a limited role in bringing about changes in power relations at the local level and are therefore could be seen as a peculiar partner to work with on these issues.
- It is difficult to reconcile a regulatory framework with the power cube.
- Those who govern are often working in their own interests, especially in fragile states.
- The Paris declaration on aid effectiveness had both good and bad intentions with regard to power. It identified very specific entry points for interventions but there are both operational and political difficulties.

Michel Pimbert offered the following comments in response:
- Interactions with local actors show that they do not necessarily want to be 'empowered' per se, they just want to be able to make their own decisions about their own lives. We should therefore shift our assumptions in the social, political and economic realms of power.
- Notions of citizenship are linked to notions of democracy, but this opens up lots of different channels for which we have no answers.

In summary, Lawrence Haddad, in the chair, asserted that addressing these issues would be a huge challenge over the next 5-10 years, not just in relocating the debate, but also in changing the ways that we work and do things. He thanked the speakers and the audience for their contributions.


This meeting looked at the role of power, democracy and citizenship in development.