Accepted paper:

The mall, the city, and the people: subtle boundaries of participation in local governance in Germany


Jonathan Roth (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Mainz)

Paper short abstract:

This paper addresses the significance of civic participation in local governance and the power relations it produces. The case study on building plans for a shopping mall in Mainz, Germany reveals divergent notions of the 'right to the city' and strategic boundaries of democracy in local affairs.

Paper long abstract:

Civic participation has emerged as a key symbol to compensate (actual or perceived) deficiencies of democratic principles and has even become a policy for many political parties. This, however, implies to share the grounds of governance which leads to controversial constellations. To address the symbolic value and actual significance of civic participation the paper will discuss a case study from an ongoing research project: Plans by an investment company to redesign a shopping area in Mainz, Germany, soon raised concerns among citizens over negative effects on local industry. Acknowledging these concerns, a citizens' forum was established, where city authorities, company executives and citizens formulated guidelines for the project. The final contract, however, followed these guidelines only to certain amount, which led to an uproar among citizens. While authorities claimed their entitlements to regulate the project, the citizens' initiative demanded the consensus of the forum to be respected The case study reveals 'subtle boundaries' of participation. The 'right to the city' is here claimed by different actors and carried out in different public spaces. By outlining and analyzing the opponent positions, the paper will discuss power relations between the actors and their respective understandings of being the rightful representative of 'the people'. Thus, the paper highlights a crucial aspect of deliberative democracy: by producing new political actors and diverging notions of representation, civic participation proves to be a contested sphere in governance. Without mutual understandings of engagement, unsuccessful participation models may even reinstitute the unilateral relations they tried to compensate.

panel IP03
The threadbare margins of revolutions: painful participation and failed mutualities