, 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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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.

This article is part of a larger study on local-level conflict and participatory development projects in Indonesia. For generous financial assistance, we are grateful to DfID, AusAID, the Norwegian Trust Fund (Measuring Empowerment Study), the World Bank’s Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction Unit, and Development Economics Vice Presidency (Research Support Budget). Patrick Barron, Claire Smith, Rachael Diprose, and Adam Satu were key members of the research team and played an integral role in developing the ideas explored here. Other field-level researchers provided ideas throughout the study. We are also indebted to Scott Guggenheim and Ruth Alsop for their active support and feedback, and to Dan Biller, Patrick Barron, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments. The views are those of the authors, and should not be attributed to the organizations with which they are affiliated.
An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12116-008-9022-z