Participatory Governance, Neoliberal Restructuring and Participatory Budgeting in Chicago, IL
Pin, Laura Grace
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This dissertation examines the relationship between participatory democracy and neoliberal restructuring in cities through an empirical examination of the practice of participatory budgeting in Chicago, IL. Using a critical institutionalist approach, in conjunction with scholarship on neoliberalization and colourblind racism, I examine how participatory budgeting in Chicago operates in a broader context of budgetary austerity, and race- and class-based inequity. My main argument is twofold. First, I argue that the emergence of participatory budgeting in Chicago is intimately related political histories of machine governance, especially patronage relations and racial exclusions. In a context of declining legitimacy of both clientelism and explicit racial exclusion from governance, participatory budgeting is a useful strategic tool for aldermen to solicit political support and distance themselves from the legacy of patronage in municipal governance. The political and institutional context helps explain why participatory budgeting in Chicago has been initiated primarily by political elites. Second, I find that in Chicago, as an elite-driven governance tool, the democratic possibilities of participatory budgeting have been limited. Participatory budgeting has sometimes enabled new social solidarities to emerge, particularly when community members creatively mobilize through the process to address shared social struggles. Nonetheless, the articulation of participatory budgeting in Chicago largely within a neoliberal framework has limited its ability to challenge budgetary austerity, and systemic race- and class-based exclusions in local democracy. In the absence of a more comprehensive shift towards participatory democratic politics in other arenas, participatory budgeting risks manifesting as an isolated and commodified form of participatory democracy: a stand-alone initiative that is palatable to elites, rather than a more substantive transformation of the exercise of political power more broadly.