Relocating Participation within a Radical Politics of Development


  • This article is a shortened version of three chapters by the authors in Hickey and Mohan (2004). Many thanks to Tony Bebbington, Uma Kothari, Diana Mitlin, Kristian Stokke and Neil Webster for their insightful comments on this work, and also to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on this particular paper.


In response to (and in sympathy with) many of the critical points that have been lodged against participatory approaches to development and governance within international development, this article seeks to relocate participation within a radical politics of development. We argue that participation needs to be theoretically and strategically informed by a radical notion of ‘citizenship’, and be located within the ‘critical modernist’ approach to development. Using empirical evidence drawn from a range of contemporary approaches to participation, the article shows that participatory approaches are most likely to succeed: (i) where they are pursued as part of a wider radical political project; (ii) where they are aimed specifically at securing citizenship rights and participation for marginal and subordinate groups; and (iii) when they seek to engage with development as an underlying process of social change rather than in the form of discrete technocratic interventions — although we do not use these findings to argue against using participatory methods where these conditions are not met. Finally, we consider the implications of this relocation for participation in both theoretical and strategic terms.