Citizen Power, Brazil’s Democracy and Political Participation
Published by Pluto Press in 2016, The Limits to Citizen Power: Participatory Democracy and the Entanglements of the State, written by Victor Albert, has become available in Open Access at the Open Research Library earlier this year, as part of the KU Select 2019: HSS Backlist Books collection.
A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.
Authored by Victor Albert, the book The Limits to Citizen Power inquires into whether a political project can exist outside of the power relations from which it is trying to emerge. In the twilight of Brazil’s twenty-one year military regime, as this work narrates, a new union movement emerged in São Paulo’s industrial region, while giving life to a new political party: the Workers’ Party. The electoral success enjoyed by the party enabled it to champion a whole raft of democratic reforms. Presently, Brazil is celebrated as a laboratory for popular and participatory forms of government. However, through its analysis of the trajectory of the Worker Party’s democratic experiment, the true challenge of embedding democracy inside existing state structures emerges in this work. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research, Victor Albert provides a critical analysis of citizen participation in Santo André, in the region of Greater São Paulo where the Workers’ Party was founded, whilst holding a microscope to the power relations between political appointees, public officials and local community activists. Albert also reveals how different social actors think and feel about citizen participation away from formal assemblies, and how some participants engage in what is a tenuous, and at times mutually distrustful, tactical and strategic relationship with political patrons.
This is the paragraph with which Victor Albert opens this book, while arguing that
“[p]articipatory democracy has a venerable place in political history, and yet it has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years among social movements, activists and reformist politicians who seek to address an array of governance ills. The rise of transnational political actors, such as the EU, IMF and World Bank, have created a ‘democratic deficit’ by putting important decision-making processes beyond the reach of the voting public. The transformation of the political class into a moneyed and professionalised elite, especially in the Global North, has widened the gap between elected officials and rank-and-file party members, leading to diminishing membership rates and grassroots support for traditional political parties, challenging the representativeness and vibrancy of electoral democracy. In addition, the prevalence of patronage politics and clientelism, often identified with the countries of the Global South, continues to thwart the programmes of elected governments, and is particularly injurious for communities of little strategic electoral value. All of these problems and more are held to be remediable by instituting participatory democracy, by re-energising and recalibrating existing democratic institutions with the participation of the lay public” (Albert, 2020, p. 14).
Edited by Pablo Markin
Albert, Victor. The Limits to Citizen Power: Participatory Democracy and the Entanglements of the State. London: Pluto Press, 2016. Accessed from https://openresearchlibrary.org.
Featured Image Credits
Michelle Bachelet Signing a Joint Statement on Advancing Women’s Political Participation, September 19, 2011 | © Courtesy of Catianne Tijerina/UN Women/Flickr.