04 SES 13 B, Empowering Young People Participation And Decision-Making
This paper is on the intent to include the young poor into democratic practices, in a context where basic needs are not fulfilled. It therefore discusses education, citizenship and social justice and illustrates – based on empirical data – the tensions between the demands for a participatory youth placed on the educational communities and the social contexts within which the education process takes place.
There is an impressive global spread of participation as concept and practice in the field of democracy and innumerable intents to create more (Kelty 2017). Its omnipresence and common desirability have led both scholars and politicians to speak of participation as an “imperative of our time” (Baiocchi and Ganuza 2016, 23), which reaches out towards new spheres and subjects. So does the socialist government of the Argentine city Rosario, which has a long participatory tradition. In 2012 it announced to “go for more” by newly offering the inclusion of poor young people into the Presupuesto Participativo Joven (PPJ), the Youth Participatory Budgeting. The PPJ invites participants to gather and experience a citizenship-building process by critically analyzing their realities and by building solution-oriented projects.
The program offers “true” participation dissociated from neoliberal and authoritative features as experienced in the past decades. The young poor, who have escaped from the traditional dispositive of control and order (Foucault 1995), constitute the very focus of the socialist government and its program of social inclusion and political innovation. I use the PPJ as a case study to analyze the discourses and practices of the program, which I understand as a new ‘technology’ of government and which will be analyzed within the Foucauldian concepts of ‘governmentality’ (Foucault 1982), ‘conduct’ and ‘counter- conduct’ (ibid. 2007a).
Rosario exposes two core features: On one hand, it is characterized by an entrepreneurial, technical and conflict-evading spirit discussed as ‘post-politics’ or ‘post-democracy’. The two terms refer to a depoliticized and consensual way of governing, with its tendency to keep disagreement and conflict out of space. It is criticized as “the art of suppressing the political” in the name of democracy and civility (Rancière 1998), as the “emptying of the political sphere in favour of technical discussion” (Baiocchi and Ganuza 2016, 49), “avoiding new visions” (ibid.), “eliminating dissidence” (ibid.), leading to “the next banality of politics” (ibid.). In this literature, institutionalized participation is treated as the contemporary norm, whose consensual characteristic has led to the “end of politics” (Rancière 1999, 75), by neutralizing and diffusing meaningful criticism (Mouffe 2005, Žižek 1999a, Rancière 1998, 1999). I will situate my data within this discussion illustrating the depoliticizing process as well as its effects. By doing so I will discuss the potential of so-called post-political participatory spaces to empower young poor people and to deepen democracy.
On the other hand, the city is member of “Educating Cities”, a global project which assumes that the city itself is educational; it recognizes its pedagogical potential and claims participation to be a right of all citizens. Its principles postulate that the educational city should exercise and develop these functions in parallel with the traditional institutions, focusing on the formation and development of all its citizens, with a special focus on children and young people (Fattore and Bernardi 2014). Based on these characteristics I will subsequently focus on the collaboration with the (in)formal educational institutions, on which the program depends for its successful realization. I will show how the implementation process generated discontent and refusal among the workers in the educational sectors and will discuss the potential as well as the limits of this highly meaningful political criticism.
This research is based on ethnographic data generated during twelve months of fieldwork in Rosario in 2012, where I was allowed to participate in work meetings and events in the context of the program. I could follow the different phases of implementation of the PPJ and over the course of the year could conduct semi-structured interviews with different groups involved in the program, like the workers of the PPJ, the leadership-team, workers from other programs of the Youth Department, with secondary-school teachers and principals involved in the program, as well as with the young participants of the PPJ. A discourse analysis of media and political debates in addition to official texts provided the material to reconstruct the various discourses of relevance for my study. For the analysis of my data I refer to poststructuralist theory, precisely to Foucault’s work on governmentality, on conduct and counter-conduct. This allows me to focus on the “how” (Rose, O’Malley and Valverde, 2006) of practices of governance, which constitutes a useful framework for exploring the micro practices of the PPJ, and how these practices relate to macro rationalities. I can show how power, rather than being possessed or held, circulates via networks that operate through and produce different bodies, discourses, practices and institutions (Foucault 1980) and how far this power might be challenged. The criticism and refusal found in the “field” can as well be analyzed fruitfully by this approach. The concept of ‘conduct’ and ‘counter-conduct’ allows to scrutinize the critical voices without reproducing the rather limited lines of co-option or rebellion, of successful implementation or resistance against policies, as it is often the case in studies of urban contestation. However, though this work is based on the Foucauldian thought, it takes just as much serious the criticism of Foucault and governmentality studies. Precisely, my work is built on Butler’s (1996) criticism, which argues that Foucault did not pay enough attention to the very political task of exclusion in order to explore the subjectivities that are rendered intelligible and unintelligible, invisible and unsayable. By going beyond a mere analysis of official discourses within the program, I also address one of the main criticisms raised against governmentality studies, i.e. that of “discursive governmentality” (Stenson 2005, 266). Critics argue that these studies tend to privilege discursive practices (official discourse) over material practices, ignoring the often messy process of implementation of policies (Clarke 2005).
The presented research shows the official discourses of the PPJ, illustrating the local government’s understanding of youth and poverty as well as key concepts of democracy, which expose a strong neoliberal rationality. Poverty is thought of as an uncontrollable by-product, participation as the best response possible and moral imperative. The young poor people, conceptualized based on an elitist vision of youth, are supposed to autonomously transform themselves and their reality and to care for the common, which indicates an ethos of responsibilization, combined with a neocommunitarian ideal of active citizenship and community spirit. However, core actors from the educational institutions refuse a collaboration with the program. They criticize its logic and the limits, the government’s understanding of politics and their proper neoliberal working conditions, which underlines the importance of the broader (political) context when implementing participatory techniques. It furthermore shows the contestable dimensions of governing (Death 2010) and renders evident the limits of critique in a post-political context. In the end, the program cannot reach the poorest youth; their ‘non -citizenship’ becomes reaffirmed, exposing how governmentality normalizes certain kinds of subjects while others disappear from sight or appear as abnormal. An invisibilization of poverty also takes place in the assemblies, which are driven by a lack of citizenship and rights talk. The depoliticizing practices of the PPJ therefore position the young people outside of where material and symbolic forces operate, finally keeping them in their vulnerable social position. What the project seems to offer is an encounter and the construction of projects with a focus on minor issues. This neoliberal ‘encounter and project citizenship’ converts the young participants into corresponding ‘subjects of projects,’ who understand participation as a “helping” practice, rather than as an exercise of citizenship.
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