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Topic 1.1 Participation and Development on a Human Scale: the approaches of Max-Neef

Authors such as Elizalde and Max-Neef were two of the main promoters of this new approach to More Human Development (Development on a Human Scale).

His theory raises in a general way the need to promote a development oriented to the satisfaction of human needs, needs that are finite, identifiable, classifiable and universal, that is, they are the same for any human being regardless of the historical period in which they live, or the culture where it has been socialized. What varies from one era to another, and from one culture to another, are the procedures and instruments through which these needs are satisfied, that is, what these authors call satisfiers.

These satisfiers can be of a very different nature: from destructive or violating satisfiers (which, when applied with the intention of satisfying a certain need, end up negatively affecting the satisfaction of that or other needs in other subjects), to synergistic satisfiers (where the procedure in which a certain need is satisfied stimulates and contributes to the satisfaction of other needs for oneself and for other subjects in the present and in the future).

And these satisfiers are combined with the nine needs that make up a system (subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, creation, leisure, identity and freedom) and with existential categories (being, having, doing, relationships).

We could consider all of them as human rights, and each of them, if satisfied through synergistic satisfiers, contributes transversally to the adequate satisfaction of the others. Perhaps the most relevant and radical in this sense is the participation need, since it intervenes directly and transversally, optimizing access to the satisfaction of other needs. In fact, authors such as Doyal and Gough identify it as critical autonomy (right to communicate, to propose, to dissent, to decide, to share, etc.). In this way, the needs for protection, affection, understanding, creativity, leisure, identity and freedom could not be optimized without the participation of the subjects.

What is the difficulty we are facing? That the current development paradigm, clearly economistic, and where production and consumption are the primary goal, needs for its support and reproduction that the needs of the subjects adapt and even be confused with the needs of the economic system. The most direct consequence is the generation of exclusion and social fragmentation, since the main satisfiers are destructive or inhibitory.

In this type of social systems based on production and consumption, the participation simulation and symbolization turns needs into desires that are stimulated from instances outside the subject himself, who is thus highly alienated and instrumentalized.

Therefore, participation, the most relevant and radical human need, becomes the most distorted, the most inconsistent, the most hidden or made up.

All this tells us that participation is not always born within the framework of democracy, nor on the need to create strategies to prevent social tensions or anticipate the consequences that poverty and inequality produce. Thus, many participation strategies are not always aimed at questioning the state of things; on the contrary, they reinforce rather than transform existing unequal relationships.

On many occasions, decision makers and politicians offer a confusing offer that emphasizes a democratic and participatory vocation but fails to implement this vocation in measures and policies. In other words, the minimum requirements regarding what the concept of participation refers to or what is the desired participation are not defined (and, therefore, not agreed upon).

In the speech, the consensus seems total and the will or desire to participate seems powerful. But in reality, this discourse has not been accompanied by serious and systematic implementation processes (lack of participatory practices).

This distance and indeterminacy regarding what is really wanted regarding participation can be explained in:

  • The certain confusion in which our society lives regarding the appreciation and valuation that it makes around the collective, the organization of the common space and the “good society”.
  • The absence of cognitive maps that help us to name what we live, to situate ourselves and become aware of the reality that affects people and that, in a certain way, allow us to control, know and be able to anticipate the constant futures and social movements.
  • The perception of threat to stability that predefined development projects seem to offer to a community or society. The promotion of participation tends to give voice to those who do not have it or to those who are not heard. With it, the aim is to project an image of sensitivity to problems and invite participation with the aim of gathering the true needs and expectations, giving citizens the feeling of “having a voice” and influencing decisions. But if the objectives are defined in advance and there is an expectation about the results, popular participation can threaten the given stability or go against the aspirations of the people who make the decisions (Cornwall 2002). Despite this, decisions are made legitimate due to symbolic or deceptive participation strategies.

We insist again on the same idea: it is necessary to demystify the concept of participation and reassess its true purpose as a development tool, taking into account these new conceptions that we have been pointing to (as well as others emerging in social movements and grassroots groups), that consolidate it as a tool to press for changes and transformations, outside official speeches, that allow people to have better living

Authors such as Elizalde and Max-Neef were two of the main promoters of this new approach to More Human Development (Development on a Human Scale).

His theory raises in a general way the need to promote a development oriented to the satisfaction of human needs, needs that are finite, identifiable, classifiable and universal, that is, they are the same for any human being regardless of the historical period in which they live, or the culture where it has been socialized. What varies from one era to another, and from one culture to another, are the procedures and instruments through which these needs are satisfied, that is, what these authors call satisfiers.

These satisfiers can be of a very different nature: from destructive or violating satisfiers (which, when applied with the intention of satisfying a certain need, end up negatively affecting the satisfaction of that or other needs in other subjects), to synergistic satisfiers (where the procedure in which a certain need is satisfied stimulates and contributes to the satisfaction of other needs for oneself and for other subjects in the present and in the future).

And these satisfiers are combined with the nine needs that make up a system (subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, creation, leisure, identity and freedom) and with existential categories (being, having, doing, relationships).

We could consider all of them as human rights, and each of them, if satisfied through synergistic satisfiers, contributes transversally to the adequate satisfaction of the others. Perhaps the most relevant and radical in this sense is the participation need, since it intervenes directly and transversally, optimizing access to the satisfaction of other needs. In fact, authors such as Doyal and Gough identify it as critical autonomy (right to communicate, to propose, to dissent, to decide, to share, etc.). In this way, the needs for protection, affection, understanding, creativity, leisure, identity and freedom could not be optimized without the participation of the subjects.

What is the difficulty we are facing? That the current development paradigm, clearly economistic, and where production and consumption are the primary goal, needs for its support and reproduction that the needs of the subjects adapt and even be confused with the needs of the economic system. The most direct consequence is the generation of exclusion and social fragmentation, since the main satisfiers are destructive or inhibitory.

In this type of social systems based on production and consumption, the participation simulation and symbolization turns needs into desires that are stimulated from instances outside the subject himself, who is thus highly alienated and instrumentalized.

Therefore, participation, the most relevant and radical human need, becomes the most distorted, the most inconsistent, the most hidden or made up.

All this tells us that participation is not always born within the framework of democracy, nor on the need to create strategies to prevent social tensions or anticipate the consequences that poverty and inequality produce. Thus, many participation strategies are not always aimed at questioning the state of things; on the contrary, they reinforce rather than transform existing unequal relationships.

On many occasions, decision makers and politicians offer a confusing offer that emphasizes a democratic and participatory vocation but fails to implement this vocation in measures and policies. In other words, the minimum requirements regarding what the concept of participation refers to or what is the desired participation are not defined (and, therefore, not agreed upon).

In the speech, the consensus seems total and the will or desire to participate seems powerful. But in reality, this discourse has not been accompanied by serious and systematic implementation processes (lack of participatory practices).

This distance and indeterminacy regarding what is really wanted regarding participation can be explained in:

  • The certain confusion in which our society lives regarding the appreciation and valuation that it makes around the collective, the organization of the common space and the “good society”.
  • The absence of cognitive maps that help us to name what we live, to situate ourselves and become aware of the reality that affects people and that, in a certain way, allow us to control, know and be able to anticipate the constant futures and social movements.
  • The perception of threat to stability that predefined development projects seem to offer to a community or society. The promotion of participation tends to give voice to those who do not have it or to those who are not heard. With it, the aim is to project an image of sensitivity to problems and invite participation with the aim of gathering the true needs and expectations, giving citizens the feeling of “having a voice” and influencing decisions. But if the objectives are defined in advance and there is an expectation about the results, popular participation can threaten the given stability or go against the aspirations of the people who make the decisions (Cornwall 2002). Despite this, decisions are made legitimate due to symbolic or deceptive participation strategies.

We insist again on the same idea: it is necessary to demystify the concept of participation and reassess its true purpose as a development tool, taking into account these new conceptions that we have been pointing to (as well as others emerging in social movements and grassroots groups), that consolidate it as a tool to press for changes and transformations, outside official speeches, that allow people to have better living conditions and change the logic of exclusion, inequality and poverty, to which they have been subjected even by the model itself prevailing development.

Due to the relational nature of our action, from social groups and organizations there are many opportunities to rediscover the concept of participation and make it emerge from other keys.

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Like the rest of the needs, participation, due to its relational and dialogical nature, is satisfied in the first place in the field of daily life. And it is in this scenario, where the organizational and governmental structures have to seek social and political opportunities for genuine, comprehensive and inclusive participation. So far participatory democracy is understood as critical autonomy, it must be based on participation as a set of relational procedures and processes, where the different agents enter into a symmetrical and reciprocal relationship, based on cooperation, communication and reciprocity. It is in the coupling of the different agents that intervene in social life, when participation recovers its meaning as a right, and as a necessity, from keys of transversality and relationality.

Under this framework of ideas, the new rise in participation has made it possible to revalue concepts such as community and collective action, among others, in order to make them available for new forms of action that resignify people, and allow the generation of truly egalitarian spaces. It is becoming more and more evident, the effort to promote higher levels of participation, to recognize the new social movements and forms of organization, to channel the emergence of a society demanding justice and a world without exclusion, where the position of people in a situation of exclusion and inequality is recognized and ensured, where societies can articulate, promote and achieve their own idea of development.

In this way, participation begins to appear, not as the imposition of some sector, but as a new opportunity for the application of current development approaches and as an example that the demands of the population go beyond those that are limited to the coverage of basic needs, however urgent they may be.