‘Participation’ has become an essential part of good developmental practice for Southern governments, NGOs and international agencies alike. In this article we reflect critically on this shift by investigating how a ‘participatory’ development programme — India's Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS) — intersects with poor people's existing social networks. By placing the formalized process of participation in the EAS within the context of these varied and uneven village–level relationships, we raise a number of important issues for participatory development practice. We note the importance of local power brokers and the heterogeneity of ‘grassroots’ (dis)empowerment, and question ideas of power reversals used within the participatory development literature
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