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Bread and Roses: Participatory Governance in Mexico and Venezuela

  • Author(s): Gasparrini, Emelin Jane
  • Advisor(s): Nederveen Pieterse, Jan
  • et al.

This project is about discovering how some groups are working to build participatory governance as an alternative to the established processes that produce their marginalization. Governance refers to the decision-making processes at work in a given aggregate of people or territory, along with the more material outcomes of those processes, and affects social, political, economic, and cultural spheres. Therefore, changing governance has the potential to create comprehensive, systemic changes within those aggregates of people or territory, particularly for those who have been excluded from the benefits or even protection of existing processes.

With this in mind, this project seeks to explore participatory governance as one possible avenue for systemic change. The following questions guide this exploration: What is participatory governance? Can it be an effective way for marginalized peoples to create alternative systems and structures to the ones that currently oppress them? By considering two living cases of participatory governance, in Mexico and Venezuela, this paper argues that participatory governance processes better serve the immediate needs of marginalized peoples and also empower them to create alternative, emancipatory systems by changing the priorities of governance through collective decision making. These questions are explored through the writings of those who are directly impacted by the participatory processes investigated in this piece, from both Mexico and Venezuela, as well as those who may have a different kind of stake in this debate, as outside observers, and sometimes as activists in their own contexts.

Following this more theoretical exploration are two in-depth case studies of living participatory governance processes: in Zapatista communities in Chiapas, a Mexican state on the border with Guatemala; and in Chavista-governed Venezuela, where twenty-first century socialism has become the official guiding governance policy. These chapters articulate the governance structures in each of the respective national contexts, and explore the products of these governance processes surrounding education, health, and equitable development, since our measure of effective governance is often tied to the collective goods it is able to provide rather than simple sets of rules and regulations.

Exploring these reformulations will ideally provide insight into alternative approaches to global governance processes currently overrun by certain exclusive and unsustainable mechanisms and hegemonies. Seeking alternatives is important because we live on a planet with finite resources, a growing population with disparate levels of consumption, and a changing climate. Conflict over arable land, clean water, and other valuable resources only promises to increase in the future, as communities face desertification or soil collapse, sea level rise, and regional conflict. Decreased conflict and increased equitability seem unlikely within the current world structure, so seeking alternative forms of governance, ways of living together, and resource management, takes on a new urgency. We must not wait until it is too late.

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