Current Institutional Affiliation
Research Associate, Gardner Center, Stanford University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Brown University
Decentralizing Democracy: Urban Participation in Chavez's Venezuela

Since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998, he has been either celebrated as a revolutionary hero or vilified as an autocratic populist. Over the last decade, billions of dollars have been spent on social programs directed toward aiding Venezuela's poor, articulated within the framework of "participatory development". Yet the extent to which these programs facilitate greater civic engagement, and to what degree they represent the expansion of state control over public life is hotly contested. My research will investigate the interaction of local citizenship practices with national development policy, and more specifically how citizens participate in a new government program designed to foster grassroots democracy. Over the last several decades, political anthropologists studying the state have viewed participatory state programs as techniques of governance, mechanisms of constructing a "governable subject" amenable to the state agenda. At the same time, development studies scholars have documented emerging participatory programs as institutionalized mechanisms of "deepening democracy", providing communities opportunities to expand the range and substance of their claims as citizens. I suggest that the interaction of local practices with participatory development programs in Venezuela is more uneven, partial, and contested-neither fully the oppressive apparatus of state skeptics, nor the idealized democratic vision of participatory triumphalists. Specifically, I propose that participatory programs are altering the mechanisms and meanings of citizen's participation in their communities and with the state. The ultimate aim of this project is to understand the dynamic process by which community members are forging new citizenship practices in contemporary Venezuela