Participation and the “han ji syndrome”- What antidotes to genuinely strengthen the voice of the urban poor

“……we argued that opening participatory arenas is not sufficient to empower the most marginalized citizens. The urban poor often reveal to be uncomfortable, helpless if not apathetic when invited to participate in the public sphere. To put it very bluntly, organizing meetings and joyfully cheering citizens to “Speak up! Speak up!” does not appear as the most relevant strategy to make them “speak”.”

This quarter in my TA class as well as in the courses I’ve been taking, participatory planning and indeed the power of participation has been the topic of hot debate. This two part blog post should be read by anyone interested in participatory planning or research because it really brings to the fore and questions assumptions that we are want to make as planners and researchers. To me it also clarifies the fact that depending on the context, one has to be really cognisant of where the community it in terms of active participation. In the Global North and in a many places in the Global South, groups are very aware of their latent power, and actively participate  to further their ‘interests’, but there are still those that do not recognise or dismiss it. The strategies of how we address and work with these two types of groups are very different. Both require us to let go of some very intrinsic understandings of our roles as researchers.

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