Bridging Gaps: Sustainable Development and Local Democracy Processes
Abstract: This thesis examines the relation between the notion of sustainable development and broad public participation in local decision-making ? local democracy processes. The empirical part of the thesis is comprised of a field investigation with the purpose of exploring the potential of the interviewed local professionals to work as transformers of the notion of sustainable development at the local level. The findings indicate that they do, how- ever, there exist several obstacles that need to be overcome. One significant outcome is the observation of the obvious lack of influence of the inhabitants on local decision-making. An- other result is that environmental issues are not extensively discussed by local professionals. Yet one more important observation is that the accounts of the respondents reflect a common criticism of the way that proceedings are implemented, i.e., mainly from the top. In this context the vision of sustainable development is not an exception. Taken together, all the problems that the respondents describe as main obstacles may be seen as forming a thorough description of the distance ? or gap ? between top-down management and bottom-up needs. The theoretical part of the thesis is based on a review of the literature exploring the themes related to the problematic of bridging the gap between top-down and bottom-up perspec- tives. The review indicates new ways of perceiving this gap in itself. There exist, at least, four distinctive gaps which seem to obstruct positive local development: the gap between top and bottom; the gap between abstract and concrete; the gap between place and place; and the gap between the four dimensions of sustainable development. It is also discussed whether or not it is desirable to develop one single approach with the purpose of bridging all four gaps. Or if it is better to deal with this problematic by structuring for an assembly of methodologies consti- tuting successive layers of transformation, each one bridging a distinct gap. In such a case, it appears essential to keep track of the whole chain of successive layers of transformation. Is such a comprehensive perspective of the different approaches ? keeping track of the chain ? that is lacking today? Is there instead a chain of discontinuities, i.e., a chain of gaps?
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