This paper analyses the particular approach to participatory development developed by SPEECH, an NGO working in Tamil Nadu, India. We explore the extent to which SPEECH’s approach transformed gender relations in the communities where they work. The analysis suggests that SPEECH’s approach is shaped by the particular way that their staff members understand participation, as well as by the understandings of local actors who take part in participatory development activities.
Through documenting two situated examples of participatory processes, the problems inherent in promoting a generalised picture of how participation works and the social changes it can engender have been highlighted. It is only through such detailed, contextualised analysis of what approaches work and do not work, and for whom, that understandings of the realities of participation will develop, and its impacts for marginalised individuals and groups improve.