ABSTRACT

In the previous chapter, I suggested that policymakers usually initiate participatory governance as a way to gain legitimacy, not because they simply want to empower citizens. The question, then, is whether, and how, participatory spaces could become something more than a political tool of dominating elites. Or is participation just a form of co-optation? In this chapter, I want to foreground the arguments I make empirically in subsequent chapters by providing a theoretical argument for why and how participation does not necessarily turn into co-optation. Skeptics of participatory governance tend to think that elites are both more powerful than civil society actors and have reasons to want to get rid of opposition so that they can achieve their goals. I suggest, instead, that elites become powerful partly in interaction with civil society actors that appear relatively powerless, because these actors are in a position to give the elites a sense of legitimacy and thereby more freedom to pursue their agenda. Thinking about it this way, from a relational perspective that acknowledges that power is produced in interactions between people, it appears that elites, too, often have an interest in forms of cooperation that are of mutual benefit. In this chapter, I deliberately defend this possibility by using the language of rational choice theorists, not because I accept their assumptions about how people act in politics – with interests and strategic calculations – but because I want to show that even if they did, elites would still have reasons to not co-opt civil society actors but instead build cooperative practices that serve their interests too.