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Building Local Democracy in Barcelona

Studies in Political Science No. 21

By (author) Georgina Blakeley
Format: Hardback
Publisher: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd, New York, United States
Imprint: Edwin Mellen Press Ltd
Published: 30th Sep 2004
Dimensions: h 235mm
ISBN-10: 0773462805
ISBN-13: 9780773462809
Barcode No: 9780773462809
Synopsis
Through an empirical case study of politics in the city of Barcelona, this book sheds light on the relationship between democratization and citizen participation in associations and social movements within civil society. Preface; It is a truism that all cities are shaped by politics. But it is true nevertheless - and true, to a spectacular and insistent degree, of Barcelona. (Hughes 1999ix) This book, which began life as a doctoral thesis in 1993, seeks to understand the process of democratisation, not at the level of the national polity as is usually the case, but at the local level, the level of politics closest to the ordinary citizen. As Skapska argues: 'more research needs to be done on local level institutions by civil society theorists, without which they cannot be alive to the importance of the "crafting" of democratic institutions and practice at the local level' (1997:145). This book aims to respond to this need. Through an empirical case study of politics in the city of Barcelona, this book seeks to shed light on the broad question of the nature of the relationship between democratisation and citizen participation in associations and social movements within civil society. The focus is on both the process of democratisation and the outcome of that process, namely, the kind of democracy established. At the core of the book are three key questions. First, what role did citizen participation play in the process of democratisation, understood as a three-stage process involving the breakdown of authoritarianism, the transition to democracy proper and the consolidation of democracy? Second, what was the impact of citizen participation on the kind of democracy established? And finally, what are the consequences of trying to create a more participatory democracy within the shell of capitalist, liberal democracy? Chapter one locates the book within the existing literature on the Spanish democratisation process. Using the concept of civil society, chapter two sets out a theoretical framework for understanding the empirical themes, based on a casestudy of Barcelona which unfold in the remaining chapters. Chapters three and four analyse how associationalism has unfolded historically in Barcelona in order to build a picture of a civil society in a given social and historical context. Chapter five explores the process by which the political elites in Barcelona, many of whom had cut their political teeth in the opposition movements to the Franco regime, took advantage of the unique 'window of opportunity' afforded by the process of democratisation to build a model of local democracy that combined representative institutions and mechanisms with spaces and mechanisms of citizen participation. Chapter six illustrates the tensions and limitations which have arisen from Barcelona's participatory experiment. Chapter seven concludes that it is difficult to sustain high levels of participation within a liberal democracy owing to a mixture of structural and contingent factors. The final note, however, is an optimistic one. The Barcelona experiment shows that, notwithstanding the array of contingent and structural factors which serve to constrain participation, liberal democracies can be made more participatory. Citizen participation, whatever one's judgement of its quantity and quality, is an incontestable and incontrovertible element of politics in Barcelona. Chapters one to four are written mainly from secondary sources. Chapters five to seven are written from primary sources, in particular, from extensive interviews with three key groups of people: those working within the city council, both political and administrative appointees; party workers and activists; and those active in different associations and social movements with particular emphasis on the neighbourhood movement, the labour movement and the women's movement (see Appendix Two for list of interviewees). Some key protagonists were interviewed more than once. These included: Jordi Borja, the key architect of Barcelona's model of decentralisation and citizen participation and a Communist Party councillor in the 1983-1987 mandate; Francesc Osan, the technical coordinator of the Area of Decentralisation and Citizen Relations within Barcelona city council; Pere Alcober, the Socialist Party councillor who headed up the Area of Decentralisation and Citizen Relations within the council; and Josep Marti, a neighbourhood activist and academic expert. The majority of interviews were carried out from July 1997 to December 1997, a period of research funded by the Vicente Canada Blanch Foundation. Interviews were also carried out in June 1999 and November/December 2003 primarily to clarify points arising from earlier fieldwork and to up-date the existing research. Documentation and literature, both primary and secondary, were obtained from a wide variety of sources. Barcelona city council's own library was particularly useful as were the Historical Archives of Catalonia, the library of the Fundacio Jaume Bofill, and the Documentation Centre at the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the Autonomous University which houses all party election manifestos and propaganda. In addition, the archives of organisations such as political parties, trade unions, and many of the neighbourhood associations proved to be valuable sources of documentation. I relied heavily on local government publications ranging from working documents to municipal action plans and budget statements; party documents included party conference proceedings and resolutions, internal working documents as well as election manifestos and party programmes; in-house literature produced by the associations themselves included books, leaflets and pamphlets. Data garnered from primary and secondary written sources was cross-referenced with primary oral evidence from interviews. I am aware of the charge that oral evidence, in particular, is unreliable. Although there is some truth in this, as there is with the bias of any evidence whether written or oral, this charge can be met. In the first place, this charge reflects the false belief that true 'objectivity' is possible. As much feminist research has pointed out, once it is realised that there is no such thing as value-free, neutral research, these charges can be met by an awareness of the possible bias of the sources used (Harding 1987, Bowles and Klein 1983, Reay 1996). Also significant in this respect was the considerable degree of overlap, often consensus, with regard to what people told me. Although true 'objectivity' is an illusion, what was difficult was how to assess the different versions of the 'truth' with which I was presented. With time, however, I realised that it was not, as I initially thought, a question of 'adjudicating' between different interpretations, i.e. were the city councillors 'right' in believing that a sufficient degree of participation had been achieved or were civil society activists 'right' in believing that what participation had been achieved was insufficient? In fact, neither interpretation was 'right' or 'wrong': such discrete interpretations, I came to realise, were a reflection of the very tensions inherent in making liberal democracy more participatory. Participation is eminently political and as such does not escape the disagreements and conflict which is the stuff of politics. On the contrary, participation is the subject of the central conflict of politics namely, 'who gets what, when and how'? In a project like this, which began life as a doctoral thesis such a long time ago, it is inevitable that the debt one owes to individuals is considerable. The Vicente Canada Blanch Foundation awarded me a grant to carry out fieldwork in Barcelona during 1997. The Politics Department at the University of Huddersfield allowed me to carry out additional fieldwork in 1999 and 2003. Brendan Evans and Ken Medhurst offered wise advice on the draft manuscript. In Barcelona I would like to thank Joan Font at Barcelona's Autonomous University, and the many individuals who so patiently gave of their time and of their memories to answer my endless questions. It was a privilege to share their experiences. In particular, Jordi Borja, Francesc Osan, Pep Marti, Roser Argemi and Pere Alcober consented to being interviewed more than once. I must also thank several people in Barcelona for their friendship and generosity. To list them all would make the book much longer and I fear I will miss many out, but particular thanks go to Ines Caravia, Pep Valenzuela and Imma Valero. At home, thanks must also go to many friends and my family, particularly my husband Andrew Taylor, for their support throughout both the doctoral thesis and this book. Finally, I would like to dedicate this book to all those in Barcelona who fought, if not to make the world a better place, at least to make one city a better place. They are proof that we do not have to accept that this is 'as good as it gets'. This book is as much theirs as it is mine. To all these people, I offer my thanks and apologies if I was unable to assimilate all the wisdom and advice they offered.

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"This book is a very helpful and significant contribution. As a student of Spanish affairs I am aware of an abundant literature concerning that country's transition from dictatorship to democracy as viewed from the level of the Spanish national polity and of the national political elites. The view from the level of civil society and of particular localities is much less explored. This manuscript serves very substantially to fill such gaps. As someone interested in the issue of politicalparticipation, and related questions concerning the nature of functioning of liberaldemocracy, I also find the manuscript most helpful and illuminating. The author approaches such matters with both conceptual clarity and a keen eye for detail. Theoretical issues are handled in a sophisticated manner. At the same time theory is, consistently related to and grounded in ample very well researched empirical materials. It is written in a very clear and readily accessible style. The work deserves to find a wide readership." - The Reverend Canon Professor Ken Medhurst.; "The Barcelona participation model has received considerable attention In diverse academic and political forums. However, up to now there has not been any global overview and analysis of its performance and limits. Georgina Blakeley's book plays this crucial role and thus fills this vacuum in the social sciences literature about local participation. The analysis is especially lucid and balanced. The Barcelona local government will not be able to claim that their main achievements to build a participatory city are not incorporated: from decentralization, to advisory councils or strategic planning the main participatory tools are explained and valued in the text. On the other side its critics will recognize their voice in the text: their arguments are presented and the book is especially brilliant in its discussions about the limits and shortfalls of Barcelona's participation...... The book is a great contribution to make clear what has been achieved and how much is still to be built." - John Front, Political Science Lecturer, U.A.B.; "The significance of this book is two-fold. It provides a new window on the transition to democracy in Catalonia. As such, it will be warmly welcomed by contemporary historians of Spain. But the relevance of the material in this book also goes beyond the case of Spain. Georgina Blakeley situates the story of the struggles for citizenship and democracy in Catalonia within wider debates concerning processes of democratic transition and consolidation. Here, discussion has frequently turned on the intellectual controversy concerning the differences between elite-led transitions and those characterised instead by waves of popular demand and intense civil society activity. Do elite-led transitions make for stable, but limited democracy? Do civil society led transitions reflect popular aspirations, but tend to polarise social divisions? On these questions, Georgina Blakely takes a perspective which tries to mediate between these two positions, making visible the role of civil society and citizenship struggles for democracy in processes of social change and transformation, whilst at the same time remaining aware that this is but one of several games being played out in democratisation. As such the book has a theoretical relevance that will make it important to scholars interested in questions of democracy-building in general. It provides evidence both of the widespread human desire for democracy and the difficulties of creating it." - (From the Foreword, Professor Jean Grugel, University of Sheffield)."