The Redistribution of Representation through Participation: Participatory Budgeting in Chengdu and Delhi

Emilie Frenkiel and Stéphanie Tawa Lama-Rewal


Abstract A strong contention of the “representative turn” is that representation is consubstantial with politics (Saward, 2010). One way to test the heuristic value of this vision is to look for representation in an institution that was historically built against representation, namely participatory budgeting (PB), a democratic innovation that has spread globally with exceptional rapidity. The literature on PB identifies two types of relationships between participation and representation: (i) participation “challenges” (Houtzager & Gurza Lavalle, 2009) existing forms and principles of representation (through “assumed representation” by civil society activists; or through “citizen agents”; Montambeault, 2016); or (ii) participation is “instrumentalised” (Fischer, 2012) by classic forms and actors of representation. On the basis of a comparative analysis of PB experiences in Chengdu (China) and Delhi (India), we argue in this article that a third type of relationship can be observed: participation—as implemented through PB—can also redistribute representation insofar as new, official representative roles are created. Moreover, looking at these new roles provides important clues about the principles of representation that are implemented and therefore about the transformative nature of PB.

Keywords China; democracy; India; participation; participatory budgeting; representation

Issue This article is part of the issue “Rethinking Representation: Representative Claims in Global Perspective”, edited by Petra Guasti (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany) and Brigitte Geissel (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany).