it has been more difficult to achieve. Often participation took place in name only, while in reality professionals, public officials and bureaucracies manipulated the concept. As already argued by Sherry Arnstein over forty years ago in her classical article on participation, “…there is a critical difference between going through the empty ritual of participation and having the real power needed to affect the outcome of the process...” (Arnstein 1969:216).
So, Arnstein can still be revisited by asking “to what extent are we still going through the empty ritual of participation or are there are signs in participation experiences where we are having the real power to affect the outcome of the process?”
Inequities in access to resources need to be addressed and a social justice perspective is important. Two cases for social participation are assessed: the concept of social capital as a means for understanding power relations and participatory budgeting as a state-provided method for participation and resource allocation.
The case for social capital
Based upon social capital research in marginalised and low-income settlements in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City – two of the region’s most polluted cities, Daniere (2005) suggests the need for a critical assessment of the capacity of social capital to be translated into concrete outcomes.
A study on social capital among urban residents in China (Chen, 2007) concludes that social capital, defined as a set of civic norms and social networks among citizens, was abundant among urban residents in China. Alternatively, based upon research in Central America, Booth (1998) highlights the strong influence of political context in shaping political capital and the importance of political rather than social capital in these countries. This study shows how group participation may have an impact upon the state through political participation and democratic norms.
Wilshusen (2009), drawing on research in Mexico, underlines the need for a contextual and relational view of social capital and the need for understanding power relations in social networks. The need for a contextual analysis of social participation is also stressed by Barns and Coelho (2009). This article draws on a range of research in Brazil and England and