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Watered-down democratization: modernization versus social participation in water management in Northeast Brazil


  • Renzo Taddei



This article examines social participation in water management in the Jaguaribe Valley, state of Ceará, Northeast Brazil. It argues that participatory approaches are heavily influenced by the general ideological and symbolic contexts in which they occur, that is, by how participants understand (or misunderstand) what is taking place, and associate specific meanings to things and events. An analysis of these symbolic factors at work sheds light on the potentialities of and limitations on participatory experiences not accounted for in usual structural analyses. In the particular case of Ceará, this article describes how the idea of modernization, which is so pervasive in the ways economic development is presented in Brazil, provides a frame against which other meanings are constructed. In water management arenas, the presentation of participation as an aspect of the general modernization of the state has reorganized meanings and delegitimized some forms of knowledge and economic activities to the detriment of others. As a result, the promotion of equality through participation lost a great deal of efficacy, and this state of affairs provided some degree of social validation for asymmetries in participatory decision making processes. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Suggested Citation

  • Renzo Taddei, 2011. "Watered-down democratization: modernization versus social participation in water management in Northeast Brazil," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 28(1), pages 109-121, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:28:y:2011:i:1:p:109-121
    DOI: 10.1007/s10460-010-9259-9

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Maria Carmen Lemos & Lisa Dilling, 2007. "Equity in forecasting climate: Can science save the world's poor?," Science and Public Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(2), pages 109-116, March.
    2. Rebecca Neaera Abers & Margaret E. Keck, 2006. "Muddy Waters: The Political Construction of Deliberative River Basin Governance in Brazil," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 30(3), pages 601-622, September.
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