From Publishers Weekly
Both the theory and real-world practice of the oft-extolled but ill-defined concept of "participatory democracy" are fleshed out in this intellectually and stylistically challenging volume, part of the Real Utopias series on re-imagining public life. The contributors, mostly leftish academics, start from the premise that representative democracy often is unresponsive to local needs, discourages public involvement beyond voting and vests real decision-making with powerful interest groups and government policy experts. Their alternative is "Empowered Participatory Governance," in which significant authority is given to local deliberative bodies where ordinary people hash out innovative solutions to everyday, pot-hole-fixing problems. Four experiments in EPG are explored: Chicago's local school councils and community policing program; participatory municipal budgeting in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre; participatory development planning in India; and habitat conservation planning in the United States. Alongside these case studies, theoretical essays and critical commentaries debate the promise and problems of participatory governance. The writers are generally hopeful about these programs, which seem to have paid off in tangible ways like construction projects and reduced crime while nudging the alienated and downtrodden towards engaged citizenship. The book is heavy going, chockfull of detailed descriptions of participatory planning procedures, which involve council assemblies, budget drafts, monitoring commissions and iterations of same, and the authors' turgid academic prose does little to enliven the material. Still, readers who can wade through the jargon and matrices and game-theory abstractions will find an intelligent discussion of vital new possibilities for self-government.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“As we lose sight of alternatives, there is no more important political and theoretical task than to develop real utopias, real in that they are based on existing institutional experiments, utopian in that they challenge ruling ideas of the epoch. In Deepening Democracy
, the latest volume in the Real Utopias series, Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright have brought together cases of what they call ‘empowered participatory governance,’ cases in which popular political participation becomes a vehicle for equity and efficiency. From Chicago public education to panchayat reform in Kerala, from habitat conservation in the United States to participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, we have case studies that enable Fung and Wright to think through the practical problems of real democracy. This is an inspirational political critique but at the same time a program for critical politics.”—Michael Burawoy
“Erik Wright has made a towering contribution to the thought of the left over a quarter of a century. This arises from his own intellectual contribution ... but also from his tireless work in identifying issues, bringing people together, and encouraging them to publish their results.”—Science and Society