Three tyrannies of participatory governance

Liz Richardson, Catherine Durose, Beth Perry

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Despite the potential promise of more participatory urban governance, some debates do not sufficiently reflect difficult realities. This paper aims to make good on this by maintaining reflexivity about tensions. Drawing on traditions of pragmatism, the paper identifies tyrannies besetting understandings of participatory governance. Tyrannies are ways of thinking that developed in response to an identified issue, but which fail to live up to their initial promise. Despite this, those particular ways of thinking continue to hold sway. The paper sets three key tyrannies: the quest for authenticity in non-elected representation; assumptions about leadership models; and ‘bottom up’ versus ‘top down’ debates. First, despite widespread acknowledgement of the value of lived experience in participatory governance, in the quest for authenticity it is simultaneously reified yet denied. Second, we question assumed symbiotic alignments between participatory governance and ideas of distributed leadership. Third, we present a critique of the fetishization of ‘bottom up’ approaches in participatory governance. It concludes with the role of reflexivity in re-negotiating the politics of participatory governance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Chinese Governance
Early online date18 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • participation
  • governance
  • bottom up
  • leadership
  • authenticity
  • representation


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