Accepted paper:

Unfolding multiple realities of participation: The case of Korea's state-NGO project partnership in Cambodia


Yoosun Ko (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the interactive processes through which actors with different interests, knowledge and capabilities converge and struggle to negotiate the meanings of participation.

Paper long abstract:

This paper draws on research in rural Cambodia designed to address the question of how ideals and practices of participation are negotiated through different tiers of the aid chain. Participation in development has been an especially appealing concept for those who seek to rebalance power away from outside professional 'experts'; it meant bringing forward methods that involve 'local' people in interventions over which they previously had limited control. Arguing that such a popular belief risks treating multiple realities of participation as if they were frozen in time and space (Cleaver, 1999; Cornwall & Brock, 2005; Cooke & Kothari, 2001; Williams, 2004), this paper seeks to move beyond the somewhat idealised accounts of how participation is imagined, framed, and practiced. The context is provided by the experience of a donor-funded water project in Cambodia, which is implemented by a Korean development NGO in 'partnership' with Korea's government aid agency. Using a combination of participant observation and qualitative interviews, this paper traces the myriad interpretations, interests, and experiences of participation across all parts of the aid chain. The findings indicate a significant disjuncture between participatory rhetoric and reality. Central to this disjuncture, the paper argues, is each actor's exercise of power over the representation and legitimacy. This paper concludes that the realisation of claims made on behalf of participatory development requires addressing more directly the political nature of relationships between group and individual identities. It calls for change in Korean 'development community', where a consideration of power remains unattended to.

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