Beyond deliberation and civic engagement

Participatory budgeting and a new philosophy of public power

Authored by: Alexander Kolokotronis , Michael Menser

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the City

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138928787
eBook ISBN: 9781315681597
Adobe ISBN:


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In this chapter we will explain the origin and evolution of one of the most successful and widespread experiments in participatory urban governance, participatory budgeting (PB). PB is a process in which residents collectively decide how to spend part of a public budget. Most often, they do this by working with elected officials and city agencies in a multi-month process which is driven by the “bottom” (communities), but with support from the “top” (government). Begun in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, it arrived in Chicago in 2012 and has spread to over 3,000 cities across the globe. Though well studied by social scientists, PB has received scant attention from English speaking political philosophers. We shall examine PB from three different normative perspectives: neoliberal efficacy, liberal “good governance,” and post-socialist participatory democracy. In doing so we look at PB strengths and weaknesses drawing upon key works in each of these different literatures. We will also point out a range of different social and political questions and opportunities that are opened by the success of PB. Ultimately, we argue that PB can be seen as a novel mode of participatory urban governance. (Full disclosure: One of us helped to bring it to the United States and both of us have been involved in its proliferation in almost 20 US cities and two universities.)

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