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Testing the Empowerment Thesis: The Participatory Budget in Belo Horizonte and Betim, Brazil

William R. Nylen
Comparative Politics
Vol. 34, No. 2 (Jan., 2002), pp. 127-145
DOI: 10.2307/4146934
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4146934
Page Count: 19
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Testing the Empowerment Thesis: The Participatory Budget in Belo Horizonte and Betim, Brazil
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Abstract

Many argue that participatory democratic reforms can reverse trends toward civic disengagement. According to the empowerment thesis, participation in one political arena will spill over into organized civil society and/or party politics. Two examples of the municipal participatory budget process in Brazil suggest, however, that participatory reforms engage the already active, not the disengaged. Still, participation in neighborhood organizations increased broadly, and participants were overwhelmingly popular and nonelite. Thus, these examples support a qualified empowerment thesis. Participatory reforms can empower a significant number of disengaged citizens in neighborhood organizations, and they can keep a significant number of existing nonelite activists engaged in democratic politics, thereby assuring continued or greater democratic pluralism and representation.

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