HomeInternational Conference on The Empowerment of Civil Society in Urban Policies

HomeInternational Conference on The Empowerment of Civil Society in Urban Policies

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Published on Wednesday, January 07, 2009


This conference seeks to analyze and to compare the institutionalization of empowerment and its impacts in diverse political, cultural, economic and institutional contexts since the empowerment seems, theoretically, to be a matrix of profound changes within contemporary States. The three-day conference organized by the UNESCO Chair on Urban Politics and Citizenship will address two key issues that are currently at the core of the transformations mentioned above: (i) the political and economical conditions of the institutionalization of empowerment in urban policies for the last 20 years, and (ii) the uses of empowerment on and by social groups within cities.


In diverse countries, the empowerment of civil societies is at the core of many urban policies. Empowerment is currently being encouraged by international institutions in developing countries, but also by supra-national bodies such as the European Union and by states. Empowerment, like many all-purpose terms made plastic by indiscriminate use, has been highly popular for a number of years. It has its keynote writers (Friedman 1992 ; Sirianni and Friedlland 2001 ; Fung and Wright 2003). The definition of empowerment is not stabilized but one has to remain that, potentially, empowerment has a subversive dimension. Contrary to traditional development policies, empowerment is based on a right-based approach, focusing on poor and deprived individuals and social groups. Quoting J. Friedmann, "No matter how dynamic, an economic system that has little or no use for better than half of the world's population can and must be radically transformed. Broadly speaking, the objective of an alternative development is to humanize a system that has shut them out, and to accomplish this through forms of everyday resistance and political struggle that insist on the rights of the excluded population as human beings, as citizens, and as persons intent on realizing their loving and creative powers within. Its central objective is their inclusion in a restructured system that does not make them redundant" (Friedmann, 1992). We may refer as well to Chambers' definition: "Empowerment means that people, especially poorer people, are enabled to take more control over their lives, and secure a better livelihood with ownership and control of productive assets as one key element" (Chambers 2003) or to Kabeer's one: "Empowerment refers to the expansion in people's ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them" (Kabeer 1999).

More generally, we may also refer to the Nobel Prize A. Sen's work when he considers that "development requires the removal of the major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systemic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states... What difference can a focal concentration on freedom make? The difference arises from two rather distinct reasons, related respectively to the "process aspect" and the "opportunity aspect" of freedom. Firstly, since freedom is concerned with processes of decision making as well as opportunities to achieve valued outcomes, the domain of our interest cannot be confined only to the outcomes in the form of the promotion of high output or income, or the generation of high consumption (or other variables to which the concept of economic growth relates). Such processes as participation in political decisions and social choice cannot be seen as being - at best - among the means to development (through, say their contribution to economic growth), but have to be understood as constitutive parts of the ends of development themselves". So, empowerment has to do with a theory of Justice and Liberty.

Although social inequalities are becoming increasingly marked, empowerment refers to a set of major transformations in policies in order to fight against poverty, to reframe gender relations, to manage cultural diversity in multicultural cities and related problems. This new social and political contract between States and civil societies, whatever the history of states and the statehood, lies upon several assumptions that can be summarized through a Mills - De Tocqueville interpretative scheme:

1. Public (urban) policies are more efficient when involving collective actors and individuals who are directly concerned by the outputs;
2. The efficiency of these policies is improved when they imply the stakeholders directly concerned by the outputs, i.e. individuals and social groups part of civil societies;
3. Civil societies are considered more flexible and more innovative, regarding the content of public policies, than public administrations regarded as too bureaucratic, too formal, and in some cases corrupted
4. The local level, within cities, is the most relevant political and social space in order to promote local democracy and empowerment because the sense of belonging to a community and civic engagement is more developed at this stage;
5. The empowerment is an efficient "tool" which transforms the state-centred political order by improving decentralisation process, pluralisation of decision-making process and, most of all, democratization process.

These axioms are part of an ideal state-society relationship, where State regulation is transformed and civil societies get more responsibilities. In sum, the empowerment aims at redefining the content of urban politics and policies by challenging the asymmetry of resources and forms of legitimacy between the civil society and the state.

It has become obvious that empowerment is part of a general tendency affecting contemporary States and the ways polity and politics are organized. Instead of asymmetric relations between, on the one hand, the state and the society, and, on the other hand, between social groups, empowerment is based on mobilization of social groups considered as deprived and marginalized.

La procédure d'envoi des propositions de communications se fait en ligne sur le site des colloques de l'Université Lyon 2 http://conferences.univ-lyon2.fr/ : http://conferences.univ-lyon2.fr/urban/inscription.php


  • Ile de Porquerolles (83)
    Porquerolles, France


  • Friday, May 15, 2009


  • politiques urbaines, transformation de l'État, citoyenneté, instruments de gouvernement, gouvernance


  • Bernard Jouve
    courriel : jouve [dot] bernard [at] uqam [dot] ca

Information source

  • Bernard Jouve
    courriel : jouve [dot] bernard [at] uqam [dot] ca


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« International Conference on The Empowerment of Civil Society in Urban Policies », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, January 07, 2009, https://doi.org/10.58079/dhl

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