Review Essay: Tyranny/Transformation: Power and Paradox in Participatory Development
Two recent works on participatory development provide perspectives on values and process in development. The first book, Participation: The New Tyranny compiles and builds on criticisms of participatory practice, and the second, Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation extends the same debate in the interest of attempting to theorize a more coherent and potentially transformative participatory development. The contributions in the volumes move participation from a seemingly unassailable theoretical panacea to a point from which it can be critically examined in multiple contexts. Participation's frequent failure to achieve what its proponents have hoped is exposed in multiple ways—and participatory theory is restructured to account for, and potentially move beyond these failures. This essay reviews these contributions and proposes that a more thoroughly pragmatic orientation might advance the interests of a transformative participation even further. Pragmatic praxis allows for more experimental habits and does away with unnecessary philosophical dualisms that exist in participatory theory. Finally, this essay sketches transdisciplinary conceptual connections from participation in development to several other fields at work on issues such as empowerment, civic engagement, urban planning, and the psychological sense of community. The issues exposed in these works are relevant to these other branches of applied social research. A constant, similarly reflective stance is necessary in each.
civic engagement; community; critical theory; development; empowerment; participation; pragmatism