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Unintentional democratisation? The Argentinazo and the politics of participatory budgeting in Buenos Aires, 2001-2004

By Dennis Rodgers

Abstract

This paper presents an account of the emergence of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, based on information collected during six months of field research carried out in April-September 2003. The aim is to trace the conditions and context within which this was established. This is of particular interest in view of the fact that PB in Buenos Aires was implemented in the midst of the recent crisis known as the Argentinazo, which arguably constituted an unlikely moment for its realisation. The paper begins with some theoretical considerations concerning the nature of empowered deliberative democracy in general, highlighting the emerging consensus about the necessary presence of strong programmatic political parties in order for such initiatives to be effectively implemented, which points to the importance of local political dynamics. Background to the crisis in Argentina is then provided, in order to situate the context within which PB was instituted and show how the conditions theoretically needed for its emergence were effectively absent. This is followed with a detailed account of the politics surrounding PB in Buenos Aires, delineating the contours of its 'political field', and showing how and why different actors within this field interacted with each other in relation to the implementation and administration of PB during 2002-2004. The main line of the paper's argument is that the Government of Buenos Aires implemented PB as an improvised 'top-down' response to the crisis of the Argentinazo, and that the different parties involved had distinct, and often contradictory, reasons for promoting or accepting the process, both initially and as it unfolded, that did not necessarily coincide with the PB process's stated aims of extending citizen participation in local governance. At the same time, the resulting constellation of competing interests that came together did so at a particular moment in time and in a unique context precipitated by the Argentinazo that temporarily held them in check vis-à-vis each other, and unintentionally created a space within which a remarkably effective PB process was able to develop during 2002-2003. In many ways, the very context of crisis that led to the establishment of PB in the first place was therefore key to its successful implementation, to the extent that it could be argued that "in the crisis lay the solution", to what seemed rather unpromising circumstances for PB to be established. Subsequent shifts in the balance of political power have led to the probably terminal decline of PB in Buenos Aires, however, although certain factors eventually allow a faint glimmer of hope for the future. The Buenos Aires case is important in that it points to a different possible scenario for the successful emergence and implementation of PB, while simultaneously reaffirming some of the central insights of studies of other PB processes and their sustainability

Topics: JL Political institutions (America except United States), JC Political theory
Publisher: Crisis States Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science
Year: 2005
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.lse.ac.uk:13322
Provided by: LSE Research Online

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Citations

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