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Democracy from Above? The Unfulfilled Promise of Nationally Mandated Participatory Reforms, Stephanie L. McNulty

Reviewed by Kathleen Bruhn

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Participatory policymaking has often been prescribed as a necessary corrective for developing democracies with weak institutional representation. Stephanie L. McNulty’s new book examines whether the prescription works. She tracks the implications of nationally mandated participatory reforms through a qualitative analysis of three primary case studies in Latin America (Guatemala, Bolivia, and Peru).

Ultimately, the author finds that these reforms, while expanding participation, fail to improve inclusion of marginalized groups, reduce corruption, or (usually) enhance government effectiveness. To be sure, these findings are not entirely unexpected in light of previous research on participatory experiments (at the city level in Brazil, for example). What is more surprising is that they hold in cases in which reforms were implemented by center or center-right governments with, at best, mixed motives. These are not reforms adopted by leftist governments intent on democratic deepening. In a sense, these are the least likely cases for successful participatory reform, in contrast to the emphasis of most existing research. Yet participation increases, perhaps speaking to a hunger for participation even in unlikely contexts. This is the first major contribution of the book.

The second contribution reflects the variation the author finds in democratic gove

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