“Putting the Poor First”: Analyzing the Circulatory Dynamics of Popular Participation in Development

By Raphaëlle Parizet

International Development Organizations have been widely criticized for imposing development programs on southern countries during the 1970s and 1980s. In order to respond to these critiques, they turned to a participatory approach to development in the 1990s and the early twenty-first century. The institutions and actors of development thus appear to have converted to the idea of “putting the poor first.” But should this move be regarded as a global participatory turn? Analyzing the gray literature produced by the World Bank and the UNDP as well the implementation of a UNDP participatory development program in Chiapas (Mexico), this article sheds light on the role played by the actors and instruments that take part in the circulation of the participationist movement. It also explores the representations related to this evolution within international development organizations. Finally, it analyses the resources that are mobilized to contribute to the production of participatory norms in these spaces. Exploring the circulatory dynamic of participatory development provides an opportunity to trace the evolution of international organizations’ methods of intervention. It also unveils the mechanisms that contribute to strengthening prevailing international arenas through the integration of the participatory approach into their development interventions.


  • circulation processes
  • international organisations
  • Mexico
  • participatory development
  • popular participation
  • poverty
  • UNDP
  • World Bank
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