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Keywords:

  • participatory budgeting;
  • deliberative democracy;
  • spatial governmentality;
  • urban governance;
  • Buenos Aires

Techniques of absence describe some of the potentially anti-deliberative practices that haunt recently widespread participation-based governance schemes. Techniques of absence remove certain kinds of people – on a spatialised basis – from crucial ‘democratic’ conversations. To illustrate these, I use ethnographic accounts from the implementation of a citywide participatory budgeting programme in three neighbourhoods across Buenos Aires, Argentina, modelled after the vaunted budgeting process pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil since 1989. I position absencing as part of an emergent urban governmentality related to participation. This allows for an analysis of the Buenos Aires participatory budget across very different areas of the city: Puerto Madero, Abasto, and La Boca. Discussion centres on dynamics of participation and non-participation observed during extensive fieldwork in 2004 and 2005. The research aimed to establish intense co-presence through participant-observation, yet instead yielded an ethnography of absences, entailing analysis of how, why and with what consequences there was lacking participation in this participatory experiment. The phenomenon of absencing points to an emergent governmentality that enables ironically pernicious, territorialised regulation of difference, which must be countered to fulfil the promise of such widespread experiments.