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Democratizing Inequalities

Democratizing Inequalities: Dilemmas of the New Public Participation

Caroline W. Lee
Michael McQuarrie
Edward T. Walker
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Democratizing Inequalities
    Book Description:

    Opportunities to "have your say," "get involved," and "join the conversation" are everywhere in public life. From crowdsourcing and town hall meetings to government experiments with social media, participatory politics increasingly seem like a revolutionary antidote to the decline of civic engagement and the thinning of the contemporary public sphere. Many argue that, with new technologies, flexible organizational cultures, and a supportive policymaking context, we now hold the keys to large-scale democratic revitalization.

    Democratizing Inequalitiesshows that the equation may not be so simple. Modern societies face a variety of structural problems that limit potentials for true democratization, as well as vast inequalities in political action and voice that are not easily resolved by participatory solutions. Popular participation may even reinforce elite power in unexpected ways. Resisting an oversimplified account of participation as empowerment, this collection of essays brings together a diverse range of leading scholars to reveal surprising insights into how dilemmas of the new public participation play out in politics and organizations. Through investigations including fights over the authenticity of business-sponsored public participation, the surge of the Tea Party, the role of corporations in electoral campaigns, and participatory budgeting practices in Brazil,Democratizing Inequalitiesseeks to refresh our understanding of public participation and trace the reshaping of authority in today's political environment.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-0022-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Since the 1970s, the United States has seen oddly contradictory trends. On the one hand we have been “bowling alone,” as Robert Putnam put it when he described the decline of a variety of long-standing forms of shared, collectively organized social activity. On the other hand we have seen an explosion of new forms of participation, from the online mobilizations for elections to small-scale venture philanthropy to a host of peer evaluations of consumer products and professional services. We are arguably more “linked in” on larger scales than ever before and yet we still lack more effective institutions for democracy....

  5. PART I Introduction

    • CHAPTER 1 Rising Participation and Declining Democracy
      (pp. 3-24)

      In November 2009, three hundred Michigan residents from all walks of life converged on the state capital in Lansing to take part in a high-level public debate about what should be done to improve their state’s beleaguered economy. In an atmosphere of brewing unrest about the nation’s direction—most clearly marked by raucous congressional town hall meetings over proposed reforms to the health care system the absence of party activists yelling at one another was notable. This was a sober, state-of-the-art affair paid for by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, in which technocratic expertise, philanthropic resources, and political capital were...

  6. PART II Participation and the Reproduction of Inequality

    • CHAPTER 2 Civic-izing Markets: Selling Social Profits in Public Deliberation
      (pp. 27-45)

      Political scholars and reformers envision public deliberation as a restorative, “real utopian” remedy for a public sphere dominated by professional talking heads and well-funded special interest groups.² Public dialogue and deliberation processes, which convene lay citizens to engage with each other on the major questions of our time, invoke nostalgia for a less commercial and more public-spirited civic life “free spaces” light years from the partisan venom and professional punditocracy that have proved so lucrative to international media conglomerates and influence-seekers.³ Despite these perceptions, today’s public deliberation projects do not occur in a space free of commerce. For far too...

    • CHAPTER 3 Workers’ Rights as Human Rights? Solidarity Campaigns and the Anti-Sweatshop Movement
      (pp. 46-65)

      Globalization has confronted workers’ movements with strategic challenges from many directions at once.¹ The spread of neoliberal economic policies; the advent of powerful logistic, transportation, and information technologies; and the worldwide dominance of export-oriented industrialization strategies have all combined to drain substantial power from workers’ movements across the advanced capitalist world.² Adding to labor’s difficulties have been new organizational models that invite large firms to engage in a surge of out-sourcing and off-shoring, generating global supply chains that cannot easily be regulated by any single nation-state. Under these conditions, it can hardly be surprising that union membership and strike rates...

    • CHAPTER 4 Legitimating the Corporation through Public Participation
      (pp. 66-80)

      InBetween Facts and Norms, Jürgen Habermas makes clear that the public sphere is not a mere organization, institution, or even a social system; it is an emergent phenomenon that refers “neither to thefunctionsnor to thecontentsof everyday communication but to thesocial spacegenerated in communicative action.”¹ This space requires a critical-rational public. But how best to understand the very notion of such a public in a context in which the pressures of bureaucratic administration and market accumulation increasingly infringe upon its territory? Here, Habermas goes beyond his argument inThe Structural Transformation of the Public...

  7. PART III The Production of Authority and Legitimacy

    • CHAPTER 5 No Contest: Participatory Technologies and the Transformation of Urban Authority
      (pp. 83-101)

      The meaning of participation has been transformed in urban civil society.¹ Once used as a tool for empowering urban citizens against politicians and growth-oriented elites, participation is now a tool for grounding political authority in the context of urban decline. Many sectors of urban civil society have become less independent even though they are well funded and participatory. Large numbers of community-based organizations no longer empower neighborhoods, but instead weigh on them.

      Yet we have trouble grappling with this transformation. Participation is still automatically associated with democratization, and community with authenticity and solidarity. Using a case study of the trajectory...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Fiscal Sociology of Public Consultation
      (pp. 102-124)

      On Wednesday, February 18, 2009, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and a nonprofit organization called California Forward jointly convened a meeting of about forty local businesspeople to discuss possible reforms to the state’s tax structure. Through “small group dialogue, electronic keypad voting and written comments,” the participants weighed in on policy options that included new sales taxes, changes to property tax rules, and simplification of the income tax code.¹ The meeting was only one of dozens of hearings, stakeholder convenings, public workshops, focus groups, Choice-DialoguesTM, visioning sessions, “community conversations,” and town hall forums convened in 2008 and 2009 to...

    • CHAPTER 7 Structuring Electoral Participation: The Formalization of Democratic New Media Campaigning, 2000–2008
      (pp. 125-142)

      Barack Obama spoke to the nation for the first time as president-elect at the site where forty years earlier police and activists clashed during the Vietnam War protests at the Democratic National Convention.¹ Obama attributed his historic victory to “the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth.” During the course of the long primary and general election season, the president defined himself, his campaign, and his leadership style in terms of empowering citizens to...

    • CHAPTER 8 Patient, Parent, Advocate, Investor: Entrepreneurial Health Activism from Research to Reimbursement
      (pp. 143-162)

      This chapter discusses a phenomenon we call entrepreneurial health activism, which emerges as a response to what its practitioners perceive as the limitations of traditional health activism. We show how entrepreneurial health activists disrupt some conventional modes of governing business and science, namely intellectual property rights and conflict-of-interest disclosures. Entrepreneurialism expands the range of practices available to health activists, potentially resulting in tangible benefits for certain disease communities. But it risks further exacerbating existing inequalities in the distribution of American health care resources.

      Health activists often see their projects in terms of life and death. They are driven by the...

  8. PART IV Unintended Consequences and New Opportunities

    • CHAPTER 9 Spirals of Perpetual Potential: How Empowerment Projects’ Noble Missions Tangle in Everyday Interaction
      (pp. 165-186)

      A newly prevalent kind of organization is spreading across the globe. It is supposed to, at once, both alleviate poverty and promote civic participation by involving disadvantaged people in solving problems rather than treating them only as victims. Beyond the goals of promoting civic engagement and helping the needy, these organizations’ list of missions typically includes promoting transformation and innovation; appreciating grassroots, local, unique people and customs; and promoting sustainability. And above all, they have a mandate¹ to provide transparent accounts to funders and to do it all quickly.

      I call these organizationsempowermentprojects and the language that they...

    • CHAPTER 10 Becoming a Best Practice: Neoliberalism and the Curious Case of Participatory Budgeting
      (pp. 187-203)

      The rapid globalization of people and ideas characteristic of our era has posed a number of interesting challenges for critical scholarship, one of which has been the circulation of ideas and blueprints for things that would have once been described as progressive. The appeal of participation described in the introduction is in fact a quite global phenomenon. Among international development agencies there is a near-identical counterpart to the way that participation has become mainstreamed, professionalized, and, according to many, depoliticized in the United States. Thoughofficiallyendorsed by International Development agencies like the United Nations (UN) since the 1970s,¹ “participation...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Social Movement Society, the Tea Party, and the Democratic Deficit
      (pp. 204-221)

      Keli Carender started blogging in January 2009, just after Barack Obama took the oath of office. An underemployed math teacher and improv comic, she adopted the pen name, “Liberty Belle,” and called for conservatives to come out and oppose the Obama administration and take back America. She described herself as

      a girl who has come to realize that the people of the USA are in dire need of a basic Economics lesson as well as a review on individual rights and freedom. I am a girl who is dedicated to filling that educational void. I will not sit idly by...

    • CHAPTER 12 Public Deliberation and Political Contention
      (pp. 222-244)

      On November 15, 2003, residents of Washington, D.C., gathered to deliberate about budget priorities for the city. Organizers of this citizen summit, the third in a series, had recruited a demographically representative group of 2,800 citizens and had gotten the mayor’s commitment to include the summit’s recommendations in a citywide strategic plan. Seated at tables of twelve with a professional facilitator at each, participants traded ideas for reforming police-community relations, discussed the need for more senior housing, and debated with city officials about who should control the public schools.

      Meanwhile, outside the Washington summit, sixty people with banners and a...

  9. PART V Conclusion

    • CHAPTER 13 Realizing the Promise of Public Participation in an Age of Inequality
      (pp. 247-250)

      The preceding chapters have, in our estimation, sparked a new critical and empirically grounded dialogue about the practice of participation, its pitfalls, and its promise. Inasmuch as we have selected contributions for the variety of perspectives they offer on participation over time, across particular contexts, at different scales, and with varying technologies, we conclude this volume not with a final verdict on the limitations of the new public participation in producing equality. Instead, we hope to provide readers with a more grounded sense of the opportunities and unintended consequences that participation might enable in a contemporary context of severe structural...

  10. References
    (pp. 251-280)
  11. About the Contributors
    (pp. 281-284)
  12. Index
    (pp. 285-298)