Across the world, as new democratic experiments meet with and transform older forms of governance, political space for public engagement in governance appears to be widening. A renewed concern with rights, power and difference in debates about participation in development has focused greater attention on the institutions at the interface between publics, providers and policy-makers.
Some see in them exciting prospects for the practice of more vibrant and deliberative democracy; others raise concerns about them as forms of co-option, and as absorbing, neutralising and deflecting social energy from other forms of political participation, whether campaigning, organising or protest. The title of this IDS Bulletin reflects some of their ambiguities as arenas that may be neither new nor democratic, but at the same time appear to hold promise for renewing and deepening democracy.
Through a series of case studies from a range of political and cultural contexts – Brazil, India, Bangladesh, Mexico, South Africa, England and the United States of America, contributors to this Bulletin explore the interfaces between different forms of public engagement. Their studies engage with questions about representation, inclusion and voice, about the political efficacy of citizen engagement as well as the viability of these new arenas as political institutions. Read together, they serve to emphasise the historical, cultural and political embeddedness of the institutions and actors that constitute spaces for participation.