Articles | Volume 70, issue 4
Standard article
17 Dec 2015
Standard article |  | 17 Dec 2015

Expanding spaces of participation: insights from an infrastructural project in rural Nepal

O. Cima

Abstract. The spread of participatory development worldwide has multiplied opportunities for local population to engage in paid and unpaid development activities. However, scholars have pointed out that participatory approaches bear the risk of strengthening unequal social structures, despite their emphasis on democratisation and inclusion. This paper investigates the case of a Swiss-funded infrastructural project in rural Nepal, analysing the role of participatory spaces in the dynamics of development resource capture. The empirical material collected suggests that, although participatory development has created more opportunities for social mobility, these opportunities are not necessarily open to everyone. In the case studied, the transformational potential of participation is only partially fulfilled.

Short summary
Participatory development has multiplied opportunities to engage in development activities. Building on the investigation of an infrastructural project in Nepal, this paper suggests that participatory development has expanded opportunities for social mobility also for traditionally marginalised groups, though these opportunities are not necessarily open to everyone. When failing to reflect on complex power relations, participatory practices risk missing their transformational promises.