Participatory Research in the US, India, and China

Written by Chen Zhang
Over the last half century, U.S.development planning scholarship and practice have shifted away from centralized, state-controlled, top-down planning toward decentralized, community-based and grassroots planning (Sctott,1998). Community participation, defined as a process of power transformation, distinguishes itself from the process of power preservation (Mifrftab, 2004; Freire, 1970) in state-central planning or rational-comprehensive planning modes. As a growing number of scholars have started to focus on the transformative power of community-based planning process (Miraftab, 2004; Beard, 2007), supporters stand that community-based planning emphasized “alternative configurations of actors” such as civil society groups, NGOs and the private sectors (Mason,2009) which encourage democracy and equity through empowerment. In opposition to the optimistic view, someone argues that, lacking anti-hegemonic work, the more community participation there is, the more the power structure of local communities is masked, and the more disempowering the process can be (Kothari, 2002).
    From Ostrom’s work, Governing the Commons (1990, 29), groups of individuals have agency to shape collective action outcomes to obtain joint benefits when all face temptations to free-ride, shirk, other otherwise act opportunistically (Ostrom, 1990). Based on Ostrom’s work, Agrawal identifies variables relevant to analyzing and understanding the community-level collective action and its methods of association to govern those collective actions to get continually joint benefits. There are three layers of association of community: Individual Level (Household Level), Group Level, and Institution Level. Such group characteristics as small size, clearly defined boundaries, and shared norms, past successful experiences, leadership, and interdependence among group members are all applicable to the analysis of community-based planning (Agrawal, 2001). Furthermore, the identification of certain institutional characteristics such as simply followed rules, the eases of enforcement of the rules, and graduated sanctions also relate to the collective community actions (Agrawal, 2001). Furthermore, the social-economic position of participants, genders, races, and other characteristics of household should be also applicable to the study of community-based planning.
   The community-participationary structure in developing countries like China and India, with different human agents, different structurally formed capacities, different constraining or enabling factors, and different external relationship with other structures, definitely displays different power mechanism through community-based planning process. According to Giddens, structures consist of “rules and resources”. (Giddens, 1982). Then Sowell modified the point to the theory of structure as resource and schema. So when we try to clarify the difference between the community-based planning in developing countries with the general community-based planning, we can turn the analysis to the comparison of them as structures in developed countries with resources and schemas. It means that all of specific characteristics of transnational community like group characteristics, institutional characteristics and household characteristics can be viewed as “resources”. They are specific physical (e.g., specialized equipment; geographic location; or geographic scale) , human (e.g. transnational immigrants), and organizational (hometown association) assets that can be used to implement value-creating strategies.
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