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“Nothing about politics”: The political scope in rural participatory governance, a case-study in the Basque Country, Spain.

The 29-page article, “Nothing about politics”: The political scope in rural participatory governance, a case-study in the Basque Country, Spain. (2017), was written by Patricia García-Espín, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 2. From the abstract, “Participatory mechanisms are understood as settings for citizens’ political engagement. However, participants frequently depict these institutions as nonpolitical. In this paper, the political scope of participatory institutions is examined through a case-study of town meetings (concejos abiertos) in the Basque Country (Spain)”. Read an excerpt from the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the introduction…

“There is nothing, nothing, nothing about politics. … You don’t know who strips to each [political] side. We never talk about that” (M. R., participant in a concejo abierto).1 Maria Rosa is a farmer who was engaged in a town meeting in a rural community in Araba (Basque Country, Spain). Two years before, she started attending meetings and acquired such extensive knowledge of the rules and the daily procedures that she was elected to the administrative board by her neighbors. Like Maria Rosa, other participants in this participatory institution believe it to be strictly non-political. In other settings of community engagement such as participatory budgeting assemblies and neighborhood associations, participants also believe that they are not playing politics (Baiocchi, 2005; Ball, 2005; Talpin, 2012). At the core of this belief is the idea that broader political issues should not be addressed in settings dedicated to small deliberation on community problems (Ganuza & Francés, 2012).

The political scope of participation, like the range of issues which are addressed, is not something that can be deduced only from the institutional design and the list of powers formally attributed to the participatory institutions. It also depends on the cultural frame assumed by participants. As Baiocchi (2005) noted regarding Porto Alegre’s participatory budget (PB) process, participants found it unacceptable to speak about political issues in assemblies, as they were committed to solving community problems in a practical sense. Talpin (2012) noticed the same thing in several European cases. In concejos abiertos (rural town meetings in Araba) most of the issues that come under the title of “politics” also sit uneasily with the participants. Like Maria Rosa, other participants think that politics should stay away.

Through a case-study in the concejos abiertos of Araba, we analyze the political scope of a community-based participatory institution. I will show how participants understand and confer meaning to this participatory setting, a highly empowered institution of rural governance. As we will observe, within the cultural framework of “politics-away,” participants distinguish themselves from party politics, making space for their own decision-making; they limit potential conflict, divisions, and promote inclusiveness; and they sustain collective action, even on broader political issues such as environmental concerns. The focal point of the paper is that participants use selective depoliticization as the best approach to sustain community engagement.

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public DeliberationJournal of Public Deliberation
Spearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen-friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol13/iss2/art8/

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