Ritualizations of Petitioning and Power. Participatory budgeting in Santo André, São Paulo (Brazil)
Participatory Budgeting is an innovation in direct democracy that has grown in popularity over the past twenty years or so. Developed first in the city of Porto Alegre, capital of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, it has since spread to cities throughout the country and across the world. Where countless other direct democracy projects in effect become merely presentational spaces for state agencies, participatory budgeting has become renowned for the purchase on government decision-making it affords the participating public. The direct petitioning of government actors with concrete demands, a defining feature of participatory budgets, gives participants identifiable objectives around which to rally. Drawing on long term ethnographic fieldwork on participatory institutions in Santo André in Brazil, I examine the ritualizations of power and participation which shape the way that participants make petitions to assembled elites and negotiate and fight for their demands. Rather than provide synoptic portrayals of citizen participation, I show how government orchestrates strategies of ritualization over a number of interconnecting meetings in such a way that legitimizes the moves of the administrative elite and yet also provides the public with a foothold in the contest over the city budget.