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The Power of Ambiguity: How Participatory Budgeting Travels the Globe

From its inception in Brazil in the late 1980s, Participatory Budgeting has now been instituted in over 1500 cities worldwide. This paper discusses what actually travels under the name of Participatory Budgeting. We rely on science studies for a fundamental insight: it is not enough to simply speak of “diffusion” while
forgetting the way that the circulation and translation of an idea fundamentally transform it (Latour 1987). In this case, the travel itself has made PB into an attractive and politically malleable device by reducing and simplifying it to a set of procedures for the democratization of demand-making. The relationship of those
procedures to the administrative machinery is ambiguous, but fundamentally important for the eventual impact of Participatory Budgeting in any one context.