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Participatory Budgeting in Brazil: Contestation, Cooperation, and Accountability

In this first rigorous comparative study of participatory budgeting (PB) in Brazil, Brian Wampler (Penn State University Press, 2007) draws evidence from eight municipalities in Brazil to show the varying degrees of success and failure PB has experienced. He identifies why some PB programs have done better than others in achieving the twin goals of ensuring governmental accountability and empowering citizenship rights for the poor residents of these cities in the quest for greater social justice and a well-functioning democracy. Most scholarly literature on Brazil’s experiments in participatory budgeting has focused on the successful case of Porto Alegre and has neglected to analyze how it fared elsewhere. Wampler is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boise State University.

Conducting extensive interviews, applying a survey to 650 PB delegates, doing detailed analysis of budgets, and engaging in participant observation, Wampler finds that the three most important factors explaining the variation are the incentives for mayoral administrations to delegate authority, the way civil society organizations and citizens respond to the new institutions, and the particular rule structure that is used to delegate authority to citizens.

A bit of background:

As Brazil and other countries in Latin America turned away from their authoritarian past and began the transition to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s, interest in developing new institutions to bring the benefits of democracy to the citizens in the lower socioeconomic strata intensified, and a number of experiments were undertaken. Perhaps the one receiving the most attention has been Participatory Budgeting (PB), first launched in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in 1989 by a coalition of civil society activists and Workers’ Party officials. PB quickly spread to more than 250 other municipalities in the country, and it has since been adopted in more than twenty countries worldwide.


List of Tables and Figures
List of Acronyms

1 Extending Citizenship and Accountability Through Participatory Budgeting
2 Participatory Budgeting: Rules of the Game
3 Authority, Negotiation, and Solidarity: PB Delegates’ Attitudes and Behaviors
4 Porto Alegre and Ipatinga: The Successful Delegation of Authority and the Use of Contentious Politics (Among Friends)
5 Blumenau and Rio Claro: Weak Mayoral Support and the Absence of Contentious Politics
6 São Paulo and Santo André: Co-optation, Limited Delegation, and Signaling
7 Belo Horizonte and Recife: Contentious Politics and Mayoral Shifts
8 Deepening Democracy Through the Expansion of Citizenship Rights and Accountability

“With its comparative analysis of eight cases of participatory budgeting (PB) in Brazil, varying from success to failure, Wampler’s book is a significant contribution to a literature heretofore dominated by single-case or two-case analyses (usually of only successful cases). His argument that divergent outcomes can be explained by analyzing political strategies of PB implementors and organized civil society participants within the real-world constraints of divergent local politics is helpful in avoiding ‘one design fits all’ conclusions.”

– William Nylen, Stetson University

“Wampler provides a compelling and original analysis of the democratic experiment known as participatory budgeting (PB). Drawing on field research undertaken in eight Brazilian municipalities,Wampler has developed a new framework for explaining why PB sometimes fails, sometimes succeeds, and sometimes yields mixed results. The author shows why enthusiasts should be cautious in their efforts to transfer PB to other contexts. This book will appeal to a broad audience of scholars and practitioners.”

– Eliza Willis, Grinnell College

Resource Link: www.psupress.psu.edu/books/titles/978-0-271-03252-8.html

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