Abstracts Revista Crítica 77 (2007)

Elisabeth Dupoirier
In search of regional civil society: Social partners, agents of regional policies funded by the European Union

The presence of civil-society interlocutors in public action is stimulated by European norms which strengthen the role of “social partners” at the different echelons of governance. For the French regions, an important means of legitimation and effectiveness is achieved by the possibility of combining into their policies the expertise and social representativity of interest groups. The regional context, however, holds little appeal for civil-society representatives. The latter, finding it difficult to reconcile positions within the territories and discouraged by the complexity of community programmes, elect to take traditional institutional routes, preferring to engage with the State and the departments. On the other hand, and at the territorial level, the regions are witnessing social partners turning to urban centres.

Pierre Mazet
Institutional uses of civil society: The example of the agglomeration councils

Participatory democratic practices in France received a decisive boost with the Development Councils of the provinces (pays) and urban agglomerations (Voynet Law, 1999). The inclusion of citizens in political life that these structures have enabled has not, however, met expectations. Based on three studies of the Southern Arcachon basin and the urban agglomerations of Bordeaux and La Rochelle, this article explores the diverse make-up of the Development Councils, the role played by local councillors in appointing and controlling members, and the difficulties of including anonymous inhabitants in local government. Reference is also made to the predominance of individuals close to elected local councillors and above all to various types of specialist and administrative staff, who are accustomed to the logic of planning and political-administrative parlance. The monopoly over debate exerted by specialist discourse drives citizens away from the associational, cultural, and Trades Union world of Development Councils. The final diagnosis, however, is not purely negative, since it points to a number of deliberative virtualities, to reconciling interests, to the opening up of local political activity and innovation-based political relations set in motion by the functioning of the Development Councils.

Rob Atkinson, Ian Smith, David Sweeting
English urban governance in transformation: A paradox of decentralization and (re)centralization

This article addresses the changing nature of English urban governance since 1997 and the paradoxical situation that has seen the operation of simultaneous processes of decentralization and (re)centralization. We first outline how we see the concept of governance before going on to provide a brief discussion of ideas on English urban governance. We then describe the structure of English local government and the post-1997 policy landscape. In the remainder of the article, our focus is on changes in relation to three spatial levels: that of local government itself and the emerging levels of the neighbourhood and the city region. We use changes at these different spatial levels to illustrate key themes that have emerged over the last decade and the nature of changes in urban governance. Finally, we offer some more theoretical reflections on the changes that have taken place, and are currently taking place, in English urban governance.

Silvia Bolgherini
The Italian mayors: A compromise revolution

During the 1990s in Italy, several radical reforms took place: an unprecedented conjunction of political, electoral, administrative, institutional, and constitutional transformations, which changed the shape of Italian politics. The direct election of the mayor introduced in 1993 is considered the most successful of these reforms and it definitely triggered a real transition toward a second republic. In general terms, it can be stated that the municipal reform led to a compromise revolution: a real revolution in terms of innovations, but also a compromise with traditional, political, culture-dependent aspects, so that a trade-off between charisma and party politics, between personalization and party role, dominates local politics and influences the new mayors’ choices.

Giovanni Allegretti, Massimo Allulli
Participatory budgets in Italy: A bridge to the building of a new municipality

The geography of Participatory Budget (PB) experiences in Italy is a rapidly mutating one, against a backdrop which is beginning to find a “hard nucleus” of political innovation in the current treatment of economic-financial themes. The gradual re-positioning of Italian PBs must be viewed as part of a broader critical/formative process, which puts in question the “undiscussed sphere” of economic factors in today’s society and the “naturalness” with which many constraints are put in place and which have become embedded in local government. Against this background, the activity of the New Municipal Network becomes key in interconnecting the different experiences and the relation with other campaigns aiming to defend local government autonomy and its projective and innovative capacity.

René Otayek
Decentralization as a way of redefining authoritarian power? Some thoughts prompted by African realities

The relation between decentralization, democratization, and political participation presents itself as indisputable, whether in the discourse of financial bodies, or in that of State and local players. Characterized as essentially normative, even as a self-fulfilling prophecy, this discourse is thwarted in Africa, where decentralizing rhetoric appears to adapt very well to democratic transitions or to authoritarian restorations. This article takes as a starting point the hypothesis that decentralization is a strategic theme for authoritarian powers, which use it as proof of their conversion to democratic ways, without having their authoritarian nature questioned. Decentralization is thus, conceivably, less the sign of a well directioned democratization and more a measure of the authoritarian powers’ capacity to adapt to the new circumstances arising from internal (democratic demands, the awakening of “civil society”) and international transformations (the Washington Consensus). The confluence of these results in a deresponsibilization and re-organizing of the State in favour of new, intra-state players and new regulation models freed from its tutelage.

Tiago Matos Fernandes
Does decentralizing mean fragmenting? Risks to the unity of the Mozambican state deriving from administrative pluralism

A critical analysis is undertaken of the risks resulting from the existence of a variety of local political players in Mozambique, who, in addition to their involvement in district and local government, fill political and administrative positions in the same territorial space. They are, in essence, the traditional chiefs, neighbourhood secretaries, and religious leaders. Starting from a case study carried out on the island of Mozambique (Nampula Province), this article sets out to demonstrate how institutionalization of the administrative pluralism concerned, sped up by the ongoing process of administrative decentralization, jeopardizes the exercise of State sovereignty at local levels.

Daniel Francisco
Territories called desire: From the breadth of concepts to the curbing of experiences

Several factors have contributed to the social sciences shifting attention to dynamics linked to territory. In principle, themes of power, development, and social cohesion will now take on the most relevance. This article broaches the way in which territorial contexts have entered recent concepts of power and the State. It discusses the extent to which this is due to the realization that there are new ways of going about politics, from within the territories, or whether this serves instead to illustrate, at the “local” level, action modalities which are well-known and are of little innovative value.

Published 27 September 2007
Original in Portuguese

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