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Democratic participation and agonism: citizen perspectives of participatory spaces created under the Localism Act (2011)

Wargent, M (2017) Democratic participation and agonism: citizen perspectives of participatory spaces created under the Localism Act (2011). PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates the nature of participatory democracy offered by the UK’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government between 2010 and 2015. Primary and secondary data are employed to consider citizen participation in Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs), a community-led planning initiative introduced under the Localism Act (2011). This explores the nature of participation on offer, and how citizens are simultaneously encountering and creating new democratic spaces, navigating legislative frameworks, managing relationships with governance partners, and seeking to secure their own interests. An interpretive policy analysis methodology is employed, highlighting how the interpretations of core participants play a central role in determining the content and direction of NDPs and the dynamics of local participation. The findings highlight the instrumental approach adopted by many participants in light of their previous experiences with local government, the expectations and norms of the planning system, and on-going uncertainty concerning ‘light touch’ regulation. Participants report rudimentary processes of co-production, however the crucial supporting role of Local Authorities remains uneven and largely unaccountable. The findings pay particular attention to the ways in which the participatory space is structured both implicitly and explicitly by the discursive framing of participation, the regulations, and national policy makers, local government officers and private consultants. Overall a picture of bounded participation is presented - with contestation largely bracketed out, ignored or otherwise managed within participatory spaces. As a result, the post-2010 localist agenda can be seen to be a form of centralism wielded at the local level. Despite this, positive changes are identified at the citizen/state nexus, with some communities seeking to co-opt the process and achieve a vision for their neighbourhood beyond the scope of land use policies, whilst evidence of increased community resilience, nascent collective identities, and enthusiasm concerning local democracy are also identified. The thesis contributes to on-going debates concerning democratic innovations by building on Mouffe’s theory of agonistic pluralism and exploring the extent to which present forms of participatory democracy display signs of agonistic practice. A model of agonistic participation is set out, reorienting the macro level insights of agonistic pluralism, with the empirical data concerning citizen participation at the micro and meso levels. This incorporates practical lessons from deliberative democracy, and seeks to move beyond increasingly well rehearsed debates between the two traditions to promote a positive sum approach that allows citizens to secure their interests and combat hegemonic practices by determining the nature of their own participation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield)
The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > Sociological Studies (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.714352
Depositing User: M Wargent
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2017 15:40
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2018 09:40
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/17565

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