Participatory development and the problem of cooptation

Authored by: Karie Cross Riddle

Routledge Handbook of Development Ethics

Print publication date:  July  2018
Online publication date:  July  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138647909
eBook ISBN: 9781315626796
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter delineates the evolution of two contested, closely related concepts in development ethics – empowerment and participatory development. While empowerment originated in radical feminist movements of the Global South, it has been recently taken up by large international institutions such as the World Bank, losing much of its political impact and critical potential. Authors such as Naila Kabeer, Serene Khader, and Jay Drydyk have called for a return to conceptualizations of empowerment that relate it to well-being or flourishing, through a contextualized analysis of power relations. Such a conception of empowerment relies on people’s and communities’ participation in their own development. A parallel exploration of the thinking of Denis Goulet, David Crocker, Séverine Deneulin, and others shows that participatory development, like empowerment, must be explicitly political, contextual, and unafraid of critiquing sensitive problems like corruption if it is to be truly emancipatory, leading to an improved quality of life for citizens of the Global South. The chapter closes with an argument calling for development ethicists to broaden their sources to include more voices from feminist, post-colonial, indigenous, and ethnic/racial critics of Western ideals of democracy and justice.

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