Cover of Democracy From Above? by Stephanie L. McNulty
Democracy From Above?
The Unfulfilled Promise of Nationally Mandated Participatory Reforms
Stephanie L. McNulty

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May 2019
248 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9781503607989
Paper ISBN: 9781503608948
Digital ISBN: 9781503608955

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People are increasingly unhappy with their governments in democracies around the world. In countries as diverse as India, Ecuador, and Uganda, governments are responding to frustrations by mandating greater citizen participation at the local and state level. Officials embrace participatory reforms, believing that citizen councils and committees lead to improved accountability and more informed communities. Yet there's been little research on the efficacy of these efforts to improve democracy, despite an explosion in their popularity since the mid-1980s. Democracy from Above? tests the hypothesis that top-down reforms strengthen democracies and evaluates the conditions that affect their success.

Stephanie L. McNulty addresses the global context of participatory reforms in developing nations. She observes and interprets what happens after greater citizen involvement is mandated in seventeen countries, with close case studies of Guatemala, Bolivia, and Peru. The first cross-national comparison on this issue, Democracy from Above? explores whether the reforms effectively redress the persistent problems of discrimination, elite capture, clientelism, and corruption in the countries that adopt them. As officials and reformers around the world and at every level of government look to strengthen citizen involvement and confidence in the political process, McNulty provides a clear understanding of the possibilities and limitations of nationally mandated participatory reforms.

About the author

Stephanie McNulty is Associate Professor of Government and Director of Faculty Diversity Initiatives at Franklin and Marshall College.

"Fed up with government, people around the world are electing outsiders who pledge to tear government down. Stephanie McNulty explores how national governments are attempting the difficult task of fixing democracy by promoting local democratic participation. Anyone who is frustrated with our democracy and eager to make it better should heed the book's lessons."

—Josh Lerner, Co-Executive Director, Participatory Budgeting Project

"Democracy from Above should be obligatory reading for scholars and practitioners of participatory democracy. Stephanie McNulty offers a welcome corrective to both naive enthusiasm and uncritical disenchantment with citizen engagement. Leveraging the very best of comparative designs alongside a wealth of empirical evidence, this book is a powerful exemplar of the new political science."

—Gianpaolo Baiocchi, New York University