Strategies and spaces of power

At the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability, also known as the Citizenship DRC,  has done a lot of work on ‘spaces’ for participation, and how these link to strategies for challenging power relations.

Closed spaces – strategies to open up closed spaces often focus on greater transparency, rights to information and disclosure and public accountability for what goes on behind closed doors.  They also may demand opportunities to have greater voice and to be consulted by other decision makers, or to be at the table with them.  A good example of this may be found in the case study on ‘Winning the Right to Information Campaign in India’.

Invited spaces – strategies to strengthen participation in invited spaces include gaining knowledge and expertise on key issues and regulations, and learning the arts of public speaking, negotiating and compromise. For many previously excluded groups, who have been used to demanding that closed spaces be opened up, or participation in their own claimed spaces, this may require new skills. Even with these, invited spaces of participation may not have much potential for change, unless there is also strong mobilization from outside the space, and strong political will on the inside to hold the space open and ensure that it is listened to.  For an example read the case study on ‘Taking a Seat on Brazil’s Health Councils’.

Claimed spaces – claimed spaces are ones where people mobilize to speak for themselves, through large scale social movements, or through smaller scale popular associations, or even informally on the streets, or in the markets.   A very good manual on building power from below through popular movements and peoples’ associations is Action Aid’s  Critical Webs of Power and Change.

The interrelationships of each of these types of spaces also creates challenges for civil society strategies of engagement. To challenge ‘closed’ spaces, civil society organizations may serve the role of advocates, arguing for greater transparency, more democratic structures, or greater forms of public accountability.  As new ‘invited’ spaces emerge, civil society organizations may need other strategies of how to negotiate and collaborate ‘at the table’, which may require shifting from more confrontational advocacy methods.  For an example see  the case study ‘Crossing the Line: UK Activists Team Up with Health Officials’.

The case study by Jenny Pearce called ‘Bringing Violence into the Powercube’ shows how activists in Colombia used the power cube to navigate changing spaces, as well as to look at  how they were filled and affected by violence as well.

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