Journal Article

IDS Bulletin 47.5

Inequality, Power and Participation – Revisiting the Links

Published on 18 November 2016

Drawing on the contributions from the World Social Science Report 2016, Challenging Inequalities: Pathways to a Just World, this article examines the relationship between economic inequality and political participation.

In particular, using the lens of the ‘power cube’ approach (, we argue that understanding the impact of inequality on political participation requires moving beyond the study of its impact on more conventional forms of participation found in voting and ‘voice’ through established or formal democratic processes.

Indeed, this relationship is also influenced by hidden and invisible forms of power, at multiple levels from the local to the global, which affect the rules of the game as well as individuals’ aspiration to participate, shaping whether, where and how citizens engage at all.

Despite the power of inequality to shape its own consensus, recent evidence also points to the emergence of levels and forms of resistance to inequality outside of traditional channels of participation, which in turn help to expand and prefigure notions of what the new possibilities of change might be.

Exploring these dynamics, the article concludes with a brief reflection on possible lessons for activists, policymakers and scholars working to understand, unravel and challenge the knotty intersections of inequality, power and participation.

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IDS Bulletin 47.5


John Gaventa

Research Fellow and Director, Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) programme

Bruno Martorano

Postdoctoral Fellow

Publication details

published by
Institute of Development Studies
IDS Bulletin, volume 47, issue 5


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