Citizens Participation: Practices, Powers, Subjects
Sociology and Social Research University of Milano-Bicocca Milano, Italy
In many European countries, citizens participation has become a central issue of institutional agenda. In public discourse it shows a high attractive capacity which is proportional to the wideness of its promises of change, regarding both the improvement of democratic process and the development of conditions of well-being of inhabitant, citizens and communities. In a number of European cities practices of participation are promoted by public authorities in different domains: social inclusion, urban regeneration, local development, environment, health, etc.. There also (urban) experiences of participation that are activated "from below", thanks to self-organisation resources of local society and the way those resources are stimulated, reshaped and bounded.
Yet participation is a vague, polysemous concept. It deals with the heterogeneity of the modes which characterise national and local contexts and with the variety of procedures that differ from each other as for the actors they address, the forms of representativeness and the relationship with public authority.
The controversial issues raised in the debate tend to concentrate on several points. An important one concerns the relationship between the issue of participation and the objectives of social and redistributive justice. The scholars who work on the metamorphoses of the European welfare states focus their attention on changing patterns of social citizenship. Furthermore, significant problem derive from the gap between the attempts to improve democratic processes and the dynamics of the so-called "post-democracy".
From a more general point of view, some crucial questions are to be considered with regard to the capabilities for participation. Who are the subjects of participation? What are their powers and freedoms? How are these powers and freedoms developed?
The paper deals with these themes on the basis of some research carried out on practices of participation in European urban contexts. It aims at putting and answering three main questions:
a) What factors can explain different practices of participation?
b) What relationship between political and social aspects of participation?
c ) What agency to participate in what?