9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN24 Science and Technology

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 Expertise and the Public in Europe Building AA, AA.223

"Yes, we can!", or how citizen participation may revert inequality and vulnerability scenarios: the case of Participatory Budgeting

This paper is based upon a 3 year-long research (April 2006 ? March 2009) developed as part of the project Researching Inequalities through Science and Technology - ResIST, funded by the European Commission. The project drew on a range of approaches in the social sciences to understand processes that contribute to the increase in inequalities through the role of S&T, but also, importantly, to understand processes that contribute to mitigate inequalities through S&T, and to bring that knowledge into policy, in developing countries and in Europe.
More specifically, we aimed at expanding the analysis of accountability systems towards experimental initiatives in urban planning, namely Participatory Budgeting (PB). As social technologies, PB processes promote a participatory strategy of urban planning, actively involving a set of actors at the local and regional levels, such as elected officials, technical and administrative staff, citizens, civic organizations and social movements. One of the main innovations brought about by PB is the "democratization" of the budget, turning it from a reserve of experts and administrators/political agents to a multifaceted object that can be appropriated by "common" citizens; a calculation device for establishing needs and priorities; a tool for redistribution based on criteria of social justice; a process of co-production of decisions and their monitoring and evaluation. This type of process aims at addressing both the redistribution of resources in order to mitigate or reduce inequalities and the empowerment of citizens to participate in deliberation and decision-making, and it is based on an articulation of participation and representation of citizens.
Through a comparative analysis of three different PB processes - Seville (Spain), S. Brás de Alportel (Portugal) and Belo Horizonte (Brazil) -, we seek to identify new configurations of relationships between knowledge and inequality and alternative "high intensity" systems of accountability, such as those commonly named by the actors involved in such processes as "forms of social control", and to evaluate their contribution to addressing inequality and the social and institutional vulnerability of poor or marginalized populations.