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Empowerment, Deliberative Development, and Local-Level Politics in Indonesia: Participatory Projects as a Source of Countervailing Power

By: Christopher Gibson, Michael Woolcock

This resource forms a part of the Brooks World Poverty Institute (BWPI) Working Paper series.

Empowerment—the process of enhancing individual or group capacity to make choices and transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes—is an increasingly familiar term within the international development community. Its increasing popularity suggests an emerging, shared understanding that marginalised individuals and groups often possess limited influence in shaping local level decision-making processes that affect their well-being. Still, relatively little reliable empirical work exists to show whether and how development-related decision making processes orchestrated by participatory development projects ultimately increase this influence  and, in so doing, improve development processes and outcomes.

The salience of the concept of “empowerment” has been more often deductively claimed than carefully defined or inductively assessed, by development scholars and practitioners alike.  Using evidence from an in-depth, mixed methods examination of the Kecamatan Development Project (KDP) in rural Indonesia, we define it here as deliberative development interventions that build marginalised groups’ capacity to engage local level governing elites using routines of deliberative contestation. Our data show that while KDP induced local level development conflicts, it also provided tools for peacefully resolving them, including associational spaces, incentives for marginalised group participation, and resources for argumentation such as facilitators. Ultimately, marginalised groups used these spaces, incentives, and resources to modestly but consistently shift local level power relations, regardless of the pre-existing institutional context. By contrast, marginalised groups in non-KDP development conflicts from otherwise similar contexts used “mobilisational contestation” to generate comparatively erratic and inconsistent shifts in power relations that depended greatly on the pre-existing context.

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Uploaded on: Dec 07, 2015
Last Updated: Dec 15, 2015
Year Published: 2008
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