, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 151-180
Date: 10 May 2008

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

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Abstract

The salience of the concept of “empowerment” has been deductively claimed more often than carefully defined or inductively assessed by development scholars and practitioners alike. We use evidence from a mixed methods examination of the Kecamatan (subdistrict) Development Project (KDP) in rural Indonesia, which we define here as development interventions that build marginalized groups’ capacity to engage local-level governing elites using routines of deliberative contestation. “Deliberative contestation” refers to marginalized groups’ practice of exercising associational autonomy in public forums using fairness-based arguments that challenge governing elites’ monopoly over public resource allocation decisions. Deliberative development interventions such as KDP possess a comparative advantage in building the capacity to engage because they actively provide open decision-making spaces, resources for argumentation (such as facilitators), and incentives to participate. They also promote peaceful resolutions to the conflicts they inevitably spark. In the KDP conflicts we analyze, marginalized groups used deliberative contestation to moderately but consistently shift local-level power relations in contexts with both low and high preexisting capacities for managing conflict. By contrast, marginalized groups in non-KDP development conflicts from comparable villages used “mobilizational contestation” to generate comparatively erratic shifts in power relations, shifts that depended greatly on the preexisting capacity for managing conflict.