Rethinking Participatory Development: A Case for Communicative Ethics


  • Igbanoi L Osikhena
  • Victor Chikadzi


Participatory development has long been touted as a panacea to the development failures resulting from highly burecraticesd and top down development programmes instituted by international donor agencies, governments and local development organisations. Development practitioners see participatory development as putting people at the centre of the development process and involving them in decision-making on initiatives aimed at their progress. Since the popularisation of participatory development in the 1970s, the concept has become a buzzword central to both the theory and practice of development work. However in recent times, participatory development has come under heavy criticism. Not only is the concept plagued with a definitional crises, it has also suffered from methodological shortcomings (Jennings, 2000; Neef, 2003; Mohan, 2001; Cleaver, 1999) that threaten its relevance and usefulness in development work. Arguably, the concept of participatory development is ‘dead’ and needs a resurrecting. Hinged on the Habermasian principle of communicative action, the paper contends that communicative ethics must be central to the practice of participatory development if we are to rediscover the usefulness and relevance of this practice. The authors argue that interventions in the lives of the poor and marginalised ought to be built on a communicative ethics. This requires moving away from strategic action, which thrives on deception and manipulation, towards genuine involvement of people in development work which affect their circumstances. The discussion contends that this is an imperative without which participatory development will lose its value as an instrument for empowerment in development. The paper begins by giving a brief overview of participatory development and thereafter discusses the Habermasian framework of communicative action. It then proceeds to discuss the evolution of participatory development and thereafter considers the most important critiques that have been levelled against the concept. The final section of the paper proposes communicative ethics as the core ingredient that needs to be embraced in the practice of participatory development for it to regain its worth as a path to the development of the poor and marginalised peoples.

DOI: 10.5901/mjss.2014.v5n14p521


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How to Cite

Osikhena, I. L., & Chikadzi, V. (2014). Rethinking Participatory Development: A Case for Communicative Ethics. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(14), 521. Retrieved from