Field Notes on Deliberative Democracy Power and Recognition in Participatory Budgeting

University dissertation from Uppsala : Statsvetenskapliga institutionen

Abstract: The theory of deliberative democracy suggests that public discourse should be guided by reasonable arguments. In real life, power relations not only obstruct free exchanges of reasons but also shape our understandings and expectations of what it means to provide reasons and to speak with authority. Struggles over power and recognition are necessary parts of deliberation. This thesis asks how groups that are marginalized in public discourse can act to demand recognition in public sphere deliberation.The thesis draws on work by Pierre Bourdieu to make the argument that actors can use various kinds of capital to advance their interests in public deliberation. Based on research on participatory budgeting in the city of Rosario, Argentina, the thesis demonstrates that state-sponsored arenas of deliberation can work as strategic social fields that ground struggles for recognition in new forms of capital. On the basis of “deliberative capital” participants can demand recognition from fellow citizens and political decision-makers. The case study of Rosario’s participatory budget demonstrates that participating citizens expected public recognition for their commitment to deliberative values. The study shows, moreover, that local politicians had reasons to respect participants’ independence from the government. Participatory budgeting could serve the political purpose of legitimizing the government on the condition that participants were recognized as independent actors who work in the interest of their neighborhoods.These arguments are presented in three essays, each making distinct contributions to debates on deliberation and inclusion. The first essay makes a theoretical argument for utilizing Bourdieu’s concepts of field, investment and capital in theorizing on public deliberation. The second essay provides an empirically grounded argument for thinking of empowerment in terms of deliberative capital. The third essay demonstrates a mechanism of non-cooptation that should be of wider relevance to debates about the merits of deliberative governance projects in urban politics. Taken together, the essays demonstrate that citizens can capitalize on an interest in legitimizing power through deliberation by conditioning their participation.