The curiosities of participation : a community's practice of participatory governance



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This study employs the heuristic of practice to understand a community's experience of participatory governance in India. The purpose of the study was three-fold: 1) understand what the organizing principle of participation means to a community, 2) how participation is enacted in the community, and 2) how participatory sites of governance are conceptualized by the community. The study was based in KMG- a village in western Maharashtra, India where a total of 40-in-depth interviews (n = 40) were conducted. As a part of the Indian constitution, institutions of participatory governance are a part of the process to decentralize governance and devolve power to the people. While the vast body of literature on this topic assesses many different contexts of participatory governance, the literature has not paid adequate attention to what people themselves make of the practice of participation and how it is embedded in the routine of everyday life. The study contributes to the study of governance by identifying how the notion of participation becomes meaningful to people and how it is practiced. Through interviews and field observations, the dissertation constructs a thick ethnographic text that describes the experiences and interactions of the residents of KMG with participation and the governance structures in their village. The data was analyzed using the constant comparative method of grounded theory to identify the different 'acts' of participation that together provide the blueprint for governance in KMG. The three macro themes that came together to inform both the practice and barriers to participating in the KMG's governance were "The Material" -- the built environment of governance, "The Conceptual" -- the imagined nature of governance and the gram panchayat , and "The Personnel" -- the representatives of the governance structure in the village. Together, these themes contribute to the way the residents of KMG spoke about practicing and experiencing participation in their everyday life. Lastly, the study animates and deconstructs the notion of participation through a people-centered interrogation. In the process, it illuminates how the links between existing institutions and organic practices of a community drive the practice of participation and the implications it has for the inclusive governance of a community.