Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


Citizen participation is everywhere. Invoking it has become de rigueur when discussing cities and regions in the developing world. From the World Bank to the World Social Forum, the virtues of participation are extolled: from its capacity to “deepen democracy” to its ability to improve governance, there is no shortage to the benefits it can bring. While it is clear that participation cannot possibly “do” all that is claimed, it is also clear that citizen participation cannot be dismissed, and that there must be something to it. Figuring out what that something is — whether it is identifying the types of participation or the contexts in which it happens that bring about desirable outcomes — is the goal of the class.

In order to gain some purchase on that, however, it is also necessary to spend some time clarifying concepts and investigating theoretical debates on participation. Despite a proliferation of best practices and successful case studies in the literature, there is general theoretical confusion on what constitutes participation, community, or governance, let alone what the desirable goals are. And in order to do that, we will also spend some time situating the current discussion on participation in its context, because it also clear that invoking participation takes place at a particular moment in development discourse as well as a particular moment of transition in the nature of the global economy and of the institutions of global governance.


This is a reading-intensive course and you should plan on spending several hours a week in reading for this course, and you should realistically assess the workload of this course before deciding to take it. You are expected to come to class having done the all reading and ready to actively participate in discussion. It is not assumed that students have background in philosophy of science or qualitative methods, but it is assumed that you have a basic working background in social theory.

The most important requirement of this course is that you read the materials each week closely, carefully, and thoughtfully, and that you attend class as an active participant. Some of the weeks have more reading than others - the reading load generally varies inversely with its difficulty. In addition to general attendance/participation you will be expected to write weekly memos, prepare presentation(s) to the class, and two small writing projects. My assumptions in making these papers smaller and of lesser importance in the overall grade scheme is that you will devote your energies to careful reading (and thinking).

  • Memos (30 percent of final grade): Before 6pm on the day before each session, submit to the seminar distribution list an analytical memo of no more than 600-1,000 words. Comment succinctly on what you found most interesting, important, puzzling, infuriating, fundamental, etc. about the readings. Distributed over email in a timely manner, these abstracts will not only help you organize your response to the readings but will also serve as a guide for discussions.
  • Critical reviews / class presentations (30 percent of final grade): In groups of 2-3 you will write and distribute in class a discussion guide for the week’s reading in which you briefly summarize some of the key ideas of the readings and offer some guiding questions for discussion. The discussion guide will also contain a dictionary of key terms used by the authors as well as a summary of questions submitted to the email list. I would like you to enter those terms on our class wiki. You will then briefly present some themes for discussion in the first fifteen minutes of class (this is a firm limit); you should not read your discussion guide, or feel each member of your group needs to present. Your presentation could consist of identifying particularly problematic passages in the text, contextualizing the debates implicit or explicit in the text, or preparing specific questions for discussion. I expect you to take some time preparing this presentation.
  • Final Project (40 percent of the grade): Your final project, due at the last day of class, will be based on secondary (or primary) research on some aspect of participation/community/governance, preferably on a case or set of cases, and ideally closely connected to some aspect of your graduate education. If appropriate, I would gladly consider (and even encourage) group final projects. One of the expectations, to be explained in greater detail, is that your project will include a review of the experiences in at least one developing country that will add to our course wiki and contribute to one of the internet databases, such as You will present these projects during the last class meetings.