“The origin of human liberty is never found in the interiority of man, be it in regards to will, thoughts or feelings, but in the intermediate space that arises only where many people come together and that can last only as long as they stay together.” 
2The notion of political competence, which has received significant scholarly attention in recent years,  should nevertheless be re-examined around three axes of reflection central to the development of a pragmatist approach. First and foremost, the concept of political competence, necessarily linked to what is expected from citizens in a democratic context, should be expanded in order to account for recent evolutions in contemporary democracies, that no longer come down to the simple act of voting but rather require constant participation from the population. Next, the concept of political competence should, contrary to prominent trends in political science, focus more on the practices of actors than on their cognitive dispositions or interior lives. This article thus proposes a non-mentalist approach to political competence. Finally, the notion of political competence should be de-essentialized and thus analyzed from a process-based perspective. The idea is to reinsert political competence into the context of its production, in order to focus on the trajectories and futures of actors, and thus evaluate the “making” of citizenship through the institutional, political, and cultural framework in which it exists.
3This is not, however, an attempt to erase the past, as the arguments presented here will build on an analysis of contemporary developments in political and social sciences regarding how they conceptualize notions of political competence and of politicization. It nevertheless seems possible to propose here a new synthesis, which could provide a tool both for thinking through citizens ’ ordinary relationships to politics and for empirically analyzing modes of access to public space. I have described this synthesis as pragmatist here because it is inspired by one of the most dynamic of recent theoretical paradigms in American and French sociology.  These theoretical elements will be articulated through methodological propositions, as only an ethnographic approach centered on the civic practices of actors satisfies the challenge of studying practical processes of mobilization and of individuals ’ acquisition of knowledge and expertise. The study thus attempts to construct a wider analysis of access to political competence and to propose an empirical illustration based on research conducted with participants from institutions of participatory democracy. The article will conclude by invoking the fundamental political and theoretical issues addressed by the question of access to political competence. To the extent that the conceptualization of this competence still depends on the underlying theory of democracy out of which it arises, the reversal of the perspective which puts the plasticity of individuals ’ political competence center stage will emphasize the potential for social change, opened up by a multiplication of spaces which enable the development of the politicization of actors.
Rethinking the notion of political competence
Expanding the notion of political competence in relation to recent transformations of democracy
4In a recent article, Lo?c Blondiaux emphasized the indissoluble link between theories of democracy and conceptualizations of political competence.  The ideal of an informed citizen was at the heart of the French republican ideal, and a more or less explicit element of classical theories of democracy.  The central intellectual and political issue in France in the nineteenth century was therefore the reconciliation of the Republic and of the “government of capacities”,  resulting in the emphasis placed on public education, seen as the keystone of democracy.
5Early empirical research in political science, however, rapidly underscored “the incompetence” and “lack of interest” in public affairs of a large proportion of citizens, which constituted a decisive argument for the formulation of an elitist or minimalist theory of democracy. 
6It appeared both effective and desirable to minimize the influence of apathetic and politically incompetent citizens.
7In this context, the conceptualization of political competence that has predominated until now has been very largely cognitive, centered on knowledge of the political field and the mastery of the rules that govern it. Political competence was traditionally defined as “the greater or lesser capacity to recognize a political question as political and to treat it as such by responding politically, in other words according to principles that are properly political (and not ethical, for example).”  In the English-speaking world, one often refers to the concept of “political sophistication”, which is essentially measured by individuals ’ responses to political questions presented in questionnaires.  This definition appears, however, to be minimalist, as it reduces politics to the political field alone and competence to knowledge of the rules of the game and of actors within this field. Thus, to be politically competent essentially means having the knowledge necessary for the expression of an enlightened choice and – specifically – a vote. By focusing the analysis of political competence solely on the mastery of the rules of the political game, one runs the risk of legitimism.  While weak knowledge of the political world, difficulty in situating candidates or proposals on the rightleft axis, and the instability and incoherence of preferences have been widely noted and constitute a recognized fact for the discipline,  reducing political competence to these variables undeniably represents the symbolic imposition of an ideal of expert knowledge on politics, which only the dominant actors in the political field possess, and who are thus authorized to define who can or cannot speak competently in the field.
8Taking these limits into account, research on political competence has recently been refocused around a different debate, raising the following question: how can citizens construct relatively coherent political reasoning out of a limited base of political knowledge? How do they make so much out of so little, thus succeeding in attaining a minimal understanding of the political world? These questions appeared in rather different research fields, from linguistics to social psychology and to political science.  One of the proposed answers – arising principally from cognitive psychology – is that citizens generally make use of cognitive shortcuts, which allow them to make sense of a complex reality, and thus to formulate relatively sophisticated political judgments, without knowing the entire causal chain leading from a cause to an effect, for example. 
9While taking into account the practical competencies of citizens seems to be a meaningful advance for the discipline, there is another reason why it has become necessary to expand research on political competence: we do not ask the same things of citizens today as we did 50 years ago. While voting is undeniably the dominant mode of participation in democracy, we cannot reduce conventional political participation to this act, any more than we can reduce political competence just to knowledge of the political field.
10Since the end of the 1980s we have witnessed a profound transformation as much in democratic theories – within the framework of what has been called the “deliberative turn”  – as in political practices, with participation now being seen as “the new spirit of public action” or of democracy.  Contemporary democracies are no longer exclusively regulated by the actions of political professionals. Each public decision is now – and obviously always was, but this tendency has been greatly accentuated over the past few years  – the result of a negotiation, or even a debate between various actors, political professionals, members of international organizations, representatives from businesses, from associations, from trades unions, and even ordinary citizens. We thus now speak of the governance of democratic societies,  this term – that we will not attempt to discuss here despite the difficulties it raises – includes the diversity of actors involved and of institutions interacting to produce public decisions. We can expand the analysis still further by considering that the growing weight of public opinion (especially as it is constructed and conveyed in the media by surveys) on the governance of societies encourages ordinary citizens to express themselves more directly, through recourse to non-conventional modes of participation such as protests, sit-ins, rallies or acts of civil disobedience. While the vote was acknowledged in the twentieth century as “the legitimate if not exclusive form of citizen participation”  – and since one of the justifications of universal suffrage was precisely to channel the political activities of the masses  – we are today witnessing a turning point, marking a further enlargement of democratic practices, characterized by a more direct link between public space and the political system.  These different tendencies are seen in the multiplication of spaces of participation, which constitute as many arenas of expression as there are political preferences.  While voting remains the principal mode of expression of political preferences in contemporary democracies, it is clearly no longer the only one.
11It would seem that one of the major characteristics of this “new spirit” is a transformation of what is expected or required of citizens in a democracy. A (good) citizen must now not only vote at each election but also participate in a certain number of public arenas.  The summons to participate to which individuals are subjected thus demands a reconsideration of the notion of political competence. Since the vote is no longer the only way of expressing political preferences, it’s appropriate to pay attention to the competencies required to express oneself appropriately in the public space. Other spaces for the expression of opinions require competencies other than the simple knowledge of programs, of ideas, and of candidates that voting presupposes. In the end we require much more and much less of citizens today than before. More, because the range of knowledge and expertise required to intervene competently in the public space today is wider than before: the ability to speak in public, make speeches oriented toward general interest, lead a meeting, and manage a negotiation among divergent interests all constitute democratic gestures that the majority of citizens do not master.  But at the same time, these newly required forms of knowledge and expertise can be drawn from the personal or professional experience of the actors.  In short, these skills are much closer to ordinary experience than to the specialized type of knowledge required to master the rules of the institutional political game.  While citizens can sometimes rely on their personal experience to understand complex political reasoning,  it would be possible to widen the analytic framework beyond the simple mastery of the codes of the political field.
12Contemporary transformations in democratic theories and practices thus call for an expansion of the political competence paradigm, which can no longer be reduced to its simple cognitive dimension. Political competence, in its minimalist definition, is just one aspect of civic competence, which is necessarily wider and includes different types of knowledge and expertise that this article will address.  The term ‘civic competence ’ is used in this article to mean the ability to master the codes and the practices necessary for the expression of one’s preferences in a democracy. This article considers that each social space – and by extension each public arena – is regulated by norms defining the right way to act.  The mastery of these rules is necessary to act successfully in a given space. These norms, however, are neither arbitrary nor intangible; they arise from more or less entrenched previous practices and are applied and defended by dominant actors in a given social space. Within the framework of public meetings, citizens must master, as we will see, a certain way of expressing their preferences if they want to be heard by those who govern. The ability to express one’s preferences – through voting, public speaking or protesting – in the public space requires a certain amount of knowledge and expertise, which a citizen may possess – based on his or her primary socialization – but that he or she may also lack and acquire through secondary socialization, in different social spaces (in the private, professional, or civic sphere). It is therefore necessary to adopt a process-based approach to access to civic competence in order to determine how individuals succeed in widening the scope of their knowledge and expertise. Civic competence is thus defined as the set of cognitive, technical, political, emotional and practical resources to which citizens have access in order to intervene in the public space. In the end, it is nothing other than the result of the trajectory of these individuals, itself situated in specific social and historical conditions, which constitute so many conditions of possible experiences and interactions.
An analysis centered more on the politicization of practices than of opinions
13Expanding our perspective in this way also necessitates a change in the epistemological prism through which political competence is studied. Traditionally conceptualized as an individual quality, or even as a disposition internalized by actors, political competence could be studied without reference to any form of practice through the responses given on individual questionnaires. Three series of factors require the re-evaluation of this cognitivist paradigm, which will allow us to focus on actors ’ practices rather than on actors ’ ex nihilo forms of knowledge. 
14First, political competence, in its traditionally accepted meaning, requires much more than the mastery of certain forms of knowledge specific to the political field. The competence of political professionals is not limited to their knowledge of political history, of rudimentary economic principles, of the rules of public law, nor of the positioning of political forces. It is also, and possibly above all, the result of a “clandestine pedagogy”,  or at least an implicit one, allowing for the acquisition of both a bodily and oratorical hexis, incarnated by certain discursive practices – the rhetoric of a great orator – mastered by political professionals and activists alike and, to a lesser degree, by all those who are generally considered to be politically competent. While such forms of knowledge stem in part from primary socialization, there would be no logic to the emphasis placed on the practice of oral presentations or on the rite of passage of the “grand oral” [final oral examination] at Sciences Po or, in elite British universities, the value placed on belonging to debating societies that promote the honing of verbal sparring, if the mastery of such skills did not also come from repeated practice in situations of secondary socialization. In this sense, the study of political competence must go beyond the cognitive level alone in order to concentrate on the practices of actors.
15Next, John Zaller’s works have masterfully demonstrated the importance that context can assume in the expression of individual opinions, thus rehabilitating the role of situational factors in the analysis of political competence.  While individuals are sometimes incapable of providing anything other than non-informed, incoherent and top-of-the-head opinions on subjects that they had never truly considered before, a change in circumstance – or observation point – allows them to formulate relatively sophisticated political arguments. It seems that focus groups are particularly favorable arenas for the development of political discussions among individuals who sometimes possess few political competences in the traditional sense.  While certain individuals seem incapable of speaking politically in public, they can manage to formulate directly political reasoning in more intimate or more private settings.  The political incompetence of the masses is thus not set in stone: in contexts where politics are less formalized, the most deprived individuals are capable of expressing political judgments: even if they do not directly refer to the political field, they can nevertheless produce arguments about what must be done, thus demonstrating in a general sense what can be considered a minimal form of politicization.  Such conclusions, by underlining the plasticity of political competence, encourage us to focus our analysis on the contexts of interactions and the civic practices of individuals, rather than on their responses to questionnaires or their cognitive dispositions.
16Finally, while there of course exists a link between what actors think and what they say and do, it is not clear whether political sociology – or any social science – has the necessary tools at its disposal to scrutinize the internal reasoning of individuals. The desire to research actors ’ “true opinions” has led a certain number of political scientists to turn toward the experimental methods of social or political psychology which potentially allow them to dispense with the need for context.  Such methods create artificial constraints on the expression of opinions, as if they could exist in a raw form. Behind an opinion or a motive, there can only be another motive in an infinite regression toward an inner state that is not accessible except in the representation of it given by the actor through the expression of his motives.  An interview, a questionnaire, a vote, or a discussion within the context of a focus group or of a public meeting are all modes of expression for political preferences wrapped up in a certain context. No material is more “pure” than another, although some appear more artificial. Political competence is perceived, in its traditionally accepted meaning, as a disposition of actors, as Bernard Lahire emphasizes: “Dispositions are never directly observed by the researcher. They are unobservable in and of themselves but are assumed to be ‘at the origin ’ of observed practices.”  Dispositions are thus necessarily intuited from the observation of practices, from the description of situations in which these practices are deployed, and from the reconstruction of the trajectory of actors. To the extent that social sciences can only reach an external knowledge of reality and that the role of context in the expression of opinions has been shown, it seems more judicious from a sociological point of view to concentrate on public expression and on the justifications of actors in context than on their inner state. Additionally, considering public justifications as pretexts or as expressions of hypocrisy  underplays their social efficacy in the given context.
17To this end it seems necessary in the study of civic competence to move away from an “internalist” and psychologically-focused perspective centered on the cognitive dispositions of actors, toward a non-mentalist and praxeological approach focused on the “in between”: more precisely, toward what a citizen must do in order to appear competent in the public space. To adopt a pragmatist perspective is to consider that individuals have access to a stock of knowledge and expertise – arising from their past experiences – that they can activate in context in order to respond competently to the problems they face. The question that subsequently arises is that of access to civic competence, or in other words, how individuals acquire a repertoire of practice.
The choice of a process-based analysis of access to civic competence
18This third point follows from the previous one. Once the role of context in individuals ’ access to civic competence has been re-evaluated, which leads to a focus on practice, the static nature of context comes into question. Logically, we must then adopt a process-based approach, centered on both the past trajectory of actors (allowing for their stabilized civic practices to be taken into account) and on the transformations in individual knowledge and expertise arising from the situations in which actors are involved. Adopting a process-based approach allows us to situate the question of civic competence within its temporal and productive context, in order to avoid the pitfalls both of a subjectivist perspective, which sees the individual as an actor free of all determinism shaping his choices, and also the inverse, strictly mechanist position, where the actor is nothing more than the vector of structural forces which overwhelm him or her and over which understanding has no influence. The process-based approach thus aims to de-essentialize the notion of political competence. This competence, when perceived as a “statutory” attribute of the individual or of the social group, appears as a concrete and unchangeable disposition, which prevents us from recognizing those phenomena which transform it;  the variability of practices according to the contexts of interaction; or even politicization more widely, which term itself implies the idea of a gradual, although not linear, phenomenon.
19Certain studies of political socialization, having relativized the importance of family for the majority of actors, have tried to resituate the question of politicization within the broader life cycles of actors, and have thus highlighted the roles of other influences in the acquisition of political competence.  By resituating the question of civic competence within the life cycles of individuals, we can, at the same time, measure the structuring power of the past on political practices while still leaving open the possibility that new experiences may arise, which also represent opportunities for socialization, or even for a change in the trajectory of actors.
20This approach has already received significant attention from social movements ’ scholarship, through the study of activist careers, or of the biographical consequences of activism.  The concept of career allows in particular for the adoption of a dynamic analysis of the processes of identity construction. The mobilization and the acquisition of new competencies can only be understood when they are placed within the global trajectory of a particular actor, by comparing them to past experiences, allowing us to understand how new experiences are assimilated, rejected, or incorporated. 
Acquiring civic competence within a participatory budgeting institution
21Now that this theoretical and epistemological framework has been established, it can be tested in order to determine whether it truly accounts for the relationship between citizens and politics. The objective here is to evaluate the impact of a particular type of experience on the civic competence of actors: participation in institutions of participatory democracy. The goal of observing access to civic competence within participatory democracy institutions is to deepen the study of ordinary relationships to politics – which has until now principally focused on the recognition of politics, particularly through nonpolitical means  – by analyzing how practices that are initially only marginally political can lead to lasting politicization.  This would allow for a shift from the analysis of dispositions to that of civic practices. How and where does this conversion to politics  take place within institutions of participatory democracy? What types of capacities do ordinary citizens possess initially, and what can they acquire through their participation? How can weakly politicized individuals, in such an institutional context, reach a position of sustainable politicization?
22In order to answer these questions, this article is based on an ethnographic study undertaken over two years, from December 2004 through September 2006, within the framework of a municipal participatory budgeting (PB) exercise in the 11th district of Rome in Italy. This case was chosen because it devolves a high degree of decision-making power to citizens and places the question of the politicization of participants and of the education of citizenship at the heart of the exercise.  In order to understand the impact that repeated participation in a PB could have on individuals, the goal was to observe and to follow the actors in context – in order to evaluate whether or not their interactions in public evolved over time – which was carried out by observing 54 public meetings of the PB. The aim was then to resituate these experiences within actors ’ individual biographies, in order to evaluate the newness of observed competencies and the meaning that these competencies had for participants. Hence the use of “life history” interviews, with twelve participants. It appears in particular that direct observation is more useful than using focus groups or questionnaires to evaluate the ordinary relationship between citizens and politics. While work focusing on “ordinary civism” or the politicization of discussions are extremely thoughtprovoking,  the transferability of results stemming from quasi-experimental methods in real political situations is always questionable. Though such protocols may foster the expression of actors ’ (potential) competencies, they do not allow us to analyze the social and contextual conditions of access to political speech. While ethnography should not be seen as a method to access objective facts as such, it nevertheless appears as the only methodology allowing for serious consideration of the importance of the context of interaction on the expression of political opinions. 
23This article first tackles the space for participation which a PB opens up, before moving to the analysis of the effects of engagement in such exercises. It will then describe the process by which individuals engaged in this institution can acquire certain skills, knowledge, expertise and practical competencies through their participation, all of which might have a significant effect on their political trajectories.
Participatory budgeting in Rome’s 11th district: a formally inclusive institution
24There now exist approximately 100 examples of participatory budgeting in Europe and nearly a thousand in the world.  Invented in Brazil, in the city of Porto Alegre toward the end of the 1980s, participatory budgeting has since met with widespread success, mostly due to the impact on the economic and social development of the Brazilian city.  A PB is defined as an institution allowing for the inclusion of ordinary citizens in the budget cycle of a public administration. The creation of a PB generally takes place through the creation of neighborhood, district, or citywide assemblies that are open to all residents and in which citizens participate in the elaboration of projects that are then integrated into the municipal or regional budget. Thus a portion (from 1 to 20% in European cases) of the annual investment budget of the community is decided upon more or less directly by citizens – generally through a co-decision process between elected officials and citizens.
25The introduction of participatory budgeting in 2003 in the 11th district of Rome was part of a radical political project, embodying the political will of a recently elected communist mayor close to the anti-globalization movement, “to deepen democracy”.  Procedurally, the Roman PB works on a cycle of annual meetings based on the budget calendar. The district is divided into seven neighborhoods that are the central spaces of participation. At the start of the year, an assembly is organized in each neighborhood, during which delegates are elected. PB delegates do not have a representative function but are regular participants, pillars of the participatory body. Next, and this is the heart of the process, thematic working-groups regularly meet over the following months in order to develop projects relating to the five principal municipal areas of responsibility, in other words: city planning; the transport infrastructure; green spaces; cultural policies; youth activities and sports. The meetings of the working-groups are open to the delegates as well as to all inhabitants of the neighborhood all of whom may speak freely in meetings. Finally, at the end of the process, a neighborhood assembly is organized – which many more people attend than come to the working-groups – during which the participants vote for one project per theme, with the one receiving the most votes per category being integrated into the district budget. The allocation of 5 million euros – 20% of the municipal investment budget – is thus directly decided upon by the residents of the district. Beyond the desire to deepen democracy, the Roman experiment expressly promotes the desire to create an active and critical citizenship. The first article of the PB constitution thus clarifies that “the PB aims for the promotion of an active citizenship through the inclusion of citizens in the decisions of the district”.  The coordinators of the meetings see in the PB a true school of citizenship, the goal of the experience being to “offer an opportunity for personal development to citizens by making individual knowledge a common resource for all”.  This article now examines how engagement in this type of exercise affects the trajectories of the actors involved, in order to determine whether participatory budgets are capable, as they claim, of creating a more competent citizenship, one ready to participate more actively in the public sphere.
Heterogeneous actors with varying initial competences
26Lay citizens are not blank slates, and what they bring to the public space are their own particular competencies, which result from their previous experiences.  The richness and the creativity of the PB stems precisely from the fact that it repeatedly brings together actors with varied initial knowledge and competencies. While the rate of participation is low, since only 1,498 people participated in 2004, which represents approximately 1% of the population of the district, the public in the PB is relatively heterogeneous, although certain categories are over-represented.  First and foremost there was real gender diversity, since in 2004, 53% of the participants of the Roman PB were women.  In generational terms, while we can observe an over-representation of those over 50 years of age (36% of participants were older than 51), all age brackets were represented, with 12% of participants being students, for example. With regard to socioprofessional categories, there was an over-representation of white-collar employees (25% of participants) and an under-representation of the unemployed (only 5% of the total). The participants in the Roman PB had, in general, a higher-than-average level of education, with 24% having a university diploma, and 41% with at least a high-school diploma. Finally, there was a marked over-representation of activists: 63% of the participants were members of an association, a political party, or a trades union.  This last point seems particularly important to the extent that it is precisely the interaction between activists and non-politicized actors that forms the basis for the acquisition of most new competencies.
27Despite the clear over-representation of certain categories of the population, which only confirms the importance of social origins and of cultural resources in political participation phenomena, already largely documented,  it is possible to underline the strong diversity of the participating public, in particular with regard to other, more conventional, political arenas. These actors with heterogeneous profiles bring different types of knowledge and of expertise to public discussions in order to lend weight to their reasoning and to convince the audience of the logic of their propositions. Three types of initial competencies have thus been observed: local knowledge, technical know-how, and political competence. 
28Local knowledge appears fundamental in the justification of all local participatory endeavors, to the extent that it rests on the idea that citizens know the most about the realities of their daily lives and, in this vein, their involvement in the production of public policies can only improve their rationality and justice. The idea is ancient, conceptualized by Aristotle, for whom those who must respect the law are better judges than those who make it. This notion has recently reappeared within certain theories of deliberation.  It is thus the practice and the use that form the quality of the judgment. The figure of the user-citizen (of public transport and public services etc.) has thus made its appearance in contemporary political vocabulary.  Within the framework of the case studied here, it is particularly the figure of the resident or of the neighbor that nevertheless dominates.
29Local knowledge, discursively mobilized during public meetings, generally takes two distinct rhetorical forms: rootedness and testimony. Local rootedness, a sign of repeated practice and observation of the area, appears as a necessary condition to assume sufficient legitimacy to speak, and acquire a status greater than that of a simple individual. Tied to personal experience, local rootedness is narrated in the form of stories. While actors – given their cultural, political, and thus discursive resources – are not all capable of immediately developing a general, or even political, discourse, the use of personal narrative and of testimonies means that the circle of those who can legitimately speak gets wider.  The PB thus allows for a non-political competence, linked to the daily lives of actors, to access the public sphere. Expanding the ways in which people can express claims beyond simple rational argument – the use of local knowledge being one of these expanded modes of expression – makes possible the participation of non-politicized actors,  which, as we will see, can sometimes translate in the long term – particularly following repeated interactions with activists – to a process of politicization.
30Technical knowledge generally arises from a specific professional practice. Given the topics discussed within the PB – principally touching upon urban renewal, transport infrastructure, public transport, and the environment – architects or urban planners occupy a particular place among the participants. It is in fact not rare to meet architects at the meetings of the PB, using their professional knowledge and sharing their expertise in order to amend or disqualify certain proposals. Technical knowledge is not the preserve of experts, however, and certain activists mobilize competencies acquired in other public arenas: environmental activists can cite precise statistics relating to pollution, activists for housing rights or for undocumented immigrants are entirely familiar with the legal texts relating to these questions. These different actors are thus able to cognitively enrich the discussions of the PB, and they thus exert a non-negligible influence over the final decisions and over other participants.
31Finally, it is worth emphasizing the political competencies of a certain number of participants, with members of political parties or of associations being over-represented within the PB. The specificity of their political knowledge and expertise will not be discussed at length here, as it goes back to the classic definition of political competence, well documented elsewhere. 
32It should be stressed that that each form of knowledge and of expertise is not mastered by all of the participants. Some possess many forms (activists, architects, etc.), while others possess relatively few. Lacking access to systematic socio-demographic data on this matter, it appears nevertheless evident that technical knowledge – considering the professional competencies it requires – is the preserve of individuals from certain socio-professional categories, and that political competence is directly correlated to cultural capital. Inversely, local knowledge is the weapon of the weak, the resource for those who have no others. Just like workers whose only bargaining chip in the production relationship is their labor, so the weakest residents can only mobilize their personal experience of the area in participatory budgeting meetings.
33Assembling actors with heterogeneous profiles, who did not previously have a shared context for exchanging views and getting to know one another, is potentially an extremely rich source of information and experiences. Interactions among these different actors can sometimes turn out to be decisive, profoundly affecting their civic trajectory. This study identified a process of whereby individual trajectories bifurcated following participatory engagement, which only affected a minority of participants however.  This process is composed of several phases, each step potentially excluding certain actors.
34A crucial condition for socialization through participation is the repetition of social interactions over time, the intensity of these interactions being, as we will see, a condition for the bifurcation of trajectories. Not all citizens participate in the PB with the same degree of intensity however. The PB is structured by circles of participation, which reflect the regularity of participation and the degree of integration within the institution. Three concentric circles can thus be distinguished, made up of regular participants, intermittent participants, and non-participants. In order to exist and to be stable, participatory institutions need to create a group of regular participants, which one might term the “group of good citizens”. It is generally composed of ten to fifteen volunteer members, who form the first circle of participants. A “group of good citizens” therefore existed in each neighborhood assembly in the Roman PB – but also in the other cases studied. These ‘good citizens ’ are well integrated into the institution; they know the rules of the game and regularly speak in front of the assembly, such that they have an important influence on the behavior of others and on final decisions. The second circle is comprised of intermittent participants, who only attend a few meetings each year. Finally, the third circle is comprised of the population as a whole and thus represents the 95% of the population that never participates in the PB.
35Integration in the “group of good citizens” is essential if actors are to be impacted by their participation. To integrate this group, they must first attend meetings – and regularly – as participation may be seen as a minimum form of engagement and of support for the process. They must also be capable of speaking in public. The participatory bodies studied rely in effect on public debate for making decisions. Even when matters were cut short by a moreor-less secret ballot, this was always preceded by a collective discussion allowing for the definition, clarification, and evaluation of propositions and arguments. Participants must therefore possess or acquire the confidence necessary for public speaking in order to promote their needs or projects. The necessity of public speaking acts as an initial hurdle, demonstrated by the low rates of participation in discussion meetings – the working-groups – as compared to participation in decision meetings (which consisted of a vote and featured few opportunities for public speaking). While, in 2004, 1,498 people participated in the Roman PB, only approximately 100 regularly participated in the working-groups.  Although the exit mechanisms cannot be explained only in terms of the fear of public speaking – factors such as the amount of time required to participate, meetings perceived as lacking interest if they weren’t directly decision-oriented (even though they played a role in the selection of propositions to be voted on), and the implicit delegation to “delegates” who, without being representatives, were there precisely to ensure the construction of propositions, cannot be ignored – this fear is equally important and represents an initial hurdle.
36Next, even within the working-groups, not everyone spoke up. Twenty-one percent of participants in working-groups thus never spoke in the meetings we observed.  This data does not reflect however inequalities among the interventions of participants – some actors speaking up many times and at length, others only intervening briefly, once. It also shows the importance of procedural arrangements concerning public speaking. Meetings of workinggroups were divided, as a general rule, into three or four small discussion groups, each one comprised of five to ten members. This allowed the majority of participants to speak, unlike other cases studied where the groups were larger (at least 20 or 30 people) and fewer people spoke (68% in Morsang-sur-Orge, 40% in Seville). Those who remain silent are condemned to remain at the margins of the institution. Participating intermittently, they can pick up some information, but their civic practices will not be significantly affected. I thus never met a regular participant, one truly integrated into the PB, who never spoke in the public assemblies.
37Not only must the participants speak, they must also speak appropriately, according to the requisite discursive norms. A necessary condition for integration within the institution is respect for the grammatical rules defining the correct way to speak in public. Individuals simply cannot say anything and everything in public;  if they do they are heavily symbolically sanctioned, as indicated by an example that occurred in the Tormarencia neighborhood.
38Overly personalized interventions, centered on the private interests of speakers, are severely sanctioned within PB assemblies, through the attribution of disparaging reputations – “bigmouth”, “consumer”, “egotistical”, “lobbyist” – and a symbolic form of exclusion. This question is all the more complex in that, as we have observed, the PB allows for an opening up of public action to traditionally excluded forms of knowledge, and especially local knowledge. The latter being necessarily linked to a form of individual, personal, and relatively idiosyncratic practice, speakers must frame it in such a way that it appears compatible with the grammar of the PB exercise. Local knowledge is thus never an end in and of itself. It must lead to a more general discussion of what must be done. While participants may start with a personal narrative to illustrate their complaints, they must nevertheless move toward a generalization arising from it. In the image of the figure of the “good voter” from the manuals of civic instruction during the French Third Republic, who was required to distance himself from his personal interests, as well as from his impulses and emotions,  to be heard in a participatory arena, one must adopt the point of view of the community and speak to the general interest.
39But, departing from civic republican morals, while an orientation toward the common good is required, this must not take the form of overtly political or partisan discourse, which is often considered so many empty words or “politicking”, appearing both ineffective and not useful for carrying out the projects of the PB. When the participants get carried away into general or political discussions, they are interrupted and brought back to order by a “but what is your proposal, then?” Speakers must therefore promote the general interest, while connecting it to a concrete project that does not appear to be motivated by a private interest. It is in this sense that discussions within these institutions are not, at first, directly political, to the extent that the subjects brought up must first be approached from a practical angle – a problem is put to the members of the community – before being generalized, that is to say presented as collectively treatable.
40Thus, the first thing that participants learn within a PB – and which is a condition for their further involvement in the exercise – is to speak according to requisite grammatical forms.  Mastery of the specific grammar of the institution, through mechanisms of sanction and gratification, can thus seem, as voting did when it was introduced, as a process domestication of citizens, who must conform to the correct ways of acting in the public sphere.
Civic competencies in interaction
41Once they speak the language of the institution, actors can progressively integrate the “group of good citizens” and thus maintain regular participation that, most of the time, will significantly affect them. It is nevertheless necessary to underline that a majority of participants never pass this first step.  Remaining discursively incompetent, they are doomed to remain on the margins of the institution, perhaps even (self-)excluded from it. This learning process is intensive, and it only involved around 100 people in the Roman case. Among the 100 regular participants, only 21% were not already engaged actors  and they were the ones who would be the most affected by their participation. We will thus turn to the acquisition of different types of knowledge and of expertise made possible by repeated participation in participatory budget exercises.
Learning to deliberate: a collective expertise
42What is generally qualified as deliberation, understood as a reasoned exchange of arguments aiming towards a collective decision, can be broken down into a series of gestures and practices, requiring of each participant specific competencies: learning to listen to others, respecting them by speaking politely in turn and without aggression, asking questions for clarification, and making “concrete” and “constructive” proposals. The practice of deliberation, far from being spontaneous, requires both procedural organization and a collective learning process. It is useful to evoke here the experience of the neighborhood assembly of Montagnola, where a real learning process took shape over time, by imitation and trial and error.
43It was thus through trial and error, as a result of failures discovered in the process (observations shared by the participants about the ineffective nature of disorganized discussion), and thanks to the enlightened influence of moderators who never ceased underlining the importance of simple procedures for managing discussion, that a collective learning experience could take place. Learning the part of the (good) citizen therefore happens firstly through the acquisition of relatively standardized and conventional ways of doing, which can only happen through interaction. Participation in PB assemblies thus allows individuals to learn how to express their opinions and speak in public, how to manage a meeting, to distribute speaking turns, and to allow less competent actors to speak.
44For the least politicized actors, participation in the PB constitutes real training in collective action, which relies on practical forms of knowledge and on competencies that are rarely explicit but indispensable for political engagement. Beyond the mastery of debate, the most involved participants learn to organize a political agenda, to manage different sensitivities, and even to handle a negotiation between immovable positions. Participation in the PB can also take the form of organizing collective actions aimed at mobilizing larger circles of the local population. Participants thus learn to organize a demonstration, to lead a petition campaign, or to organize events aimed at raising awareness of a cause within a particular group. This combination of expertise, while extremely practical, was often a foreign concept to the majority of initial participants.
Acquiring technical expertise
45Participation in the PB also allowed actors to acquire a certain number of technical competencies, enabling them to enter into discussions with municipal experts on an equal footing. The PB deals, most of the time, with urban questions (transport links, urban and local development, etc.) relating to municipal responsibilities. Discussions in the assemblies were consequently often technical, requiring the use of plans, schemas, or precise figures, in order to determine where or how to construct a gymnasium, a cycle path, a parking lot, a green space, or how to expand the neighborhood school. The PB meetings thus brought together some participants without any special technical competence, others who, through their professional activities, possessed important knowledge on certain specific questions, and municipal engineers whose rare interventions came over as real lessons in city planning. This technical apprenticeship was made up primarily of discursive interactions between citizens and experts in the case of the Roman PB. The participants thus acquired a certain technical competence on urban questions: they now know what the legal constraints are relating to particular urban developments, the cost of certain projects, and the technical advantages and disadvantages of different types of transport infrastructure development. From this point of view, participation in institutions of participatory democracy seems able to reduce the gap between experts and lay citizens in the construction of public policies.
46Regular participants also learnt to manage a budget, with its incomings and outgoings, the need to balance it, etc. The PB thus allows for increased transparency in the attribution of public funds, with budgetary complexity no longer serving as an impediment to the understanding of political choices. This “budgetary pedagogy” is also viewed by elected officials as a way to make citizens understand the difficulties of their jobs and to reduce citizen demands.
Sharing political knowledge
47Despite the exclusion of properly political discussions in these participatory arenas, they are not cut off from the local political field; indeed participation is a way to increase the political knowledge of the public and can even constitute a space of individual politicization. Although the sharing of political knowledge does not occur directly in public meetings, the “groups of good citizens” of the PB are also ways of bringing people together and play a decisive role in politicizing actors. It is thus most often in the halls, in discussions between individuals after meetings, in drinks parties, at the bar or in the street that a relationship to politics and a collective interpretation of shared lived existence is constructed: the position adopted by a given actor during a meeting is explained in terms of his or her partisan affiliation; recent municipal decisions are discussed, as are the advances or setbacks of certain projects; sometimes members even went so far as to speak of the then prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, usually to make fun of him.
48Participants thus discover the local political field and the different organizations that make it up. Their engagement allows them to become acquainted with, sometimes personally, certain actors in the political field and the first level of elected officials. They can also more easily identify their own political color (which was far from being the case for all at the beginning) and situate words and actions according to partisan orientations. They learn to negotiate with elected officials, to play on the rivalries and power relations between parties to promote their own interests. Finally, participants discover the functioning of the administrative machine, the division of responsibilities, and the conflicts within the institution. During the public meetings themselves, speeches by certain established actors sometimes resemble veritable master classes on local political power relationships or municipal institutional functions, as long as they do not come across as too partisan. Members of political parties evoke recent municipal decisions; housing activists talk about the situation of those in inadequate housing in the neighborhood; ecologists share their knowledge on questions tied to global warming or urban development. It is easy to see that while actors mobilize such information in order to persuade, it also constitutes a substantial cognitive benefit for them. In this sense, participatory budgeting exercises can represent spaces of politicization, such as for the participant who declared that she had “discovered a passion for politics”.
Politicization through acculturation
49The process of politicization observed in the PBs resembles the notion of “politicization through impregnation” articulated by Maurice Agulhon. Just like the minor provincial notables who played the role of cultural intermediaries between national politics and French peasants in the nineteenth century – in particular within chambers and clubs that allowed for repeated contact, inter-social connections, and through these, a mutual impregnation that politicized the village social structure, passing from one person to the next into all social categories  – the politicized actors in the PB, with activists at the forefront, play a decisive role in the politicization of citizens initially the furthest removed from politics. These citizens – unless they are insufficiently engaged – are lastingly affected by directly transmitted forms of knowledge, as well as expertise acquired through imitation, sanction, and gratification, and more widely through the space of sociability created within and around the PB, which allows for interactions between politicized and non-politicized actors.
50This vision of a unilateral politicization from above, from activists to lay citizens, must nevertheless be nuanced, to the extent that the influence is mutual, the processes of apprenticeship work in both directions. Activists in fact acknowledge that participating in the PB allows them to “rediscover the territory” and to acquire a local knowledge they lacked in the first instance, as they were mostly engaged in more global political causes. In the same way, the initially non-politicized actors do not come across as passive receptacles of politics, to the extent that they in their turn interpret messages aimed at them, appropriating them, hybridizing them, and sometimes even rejecting them. In this sense, the processes observed here perhaps correspond more to what Yves Déloye has termed politicization through “acculturation”.
“Without challenging the unequal nature of this exchange that can take the form of a real confrontation, the suggested notion of ‘political acculturation ’ aims to insist upon the complexity, and even more on the not-unequivocal but diversified character – in its forms and in its places of implementation – of this contact between (at least) two cultures acting and reacting to each other. Nothing would be more erroneous than to consider that one of the cultures crushes the other and shapes it, like a wax mold, in its own image.” 
52By emphasizing the heterogeneity of cultures at work as much as the processes of mutual impregnation, cultural and political mixing, of hybridization and of resistance, the notion of “political acculturation” seems to add complexity to Aghulon’s approach, and in this sense to better correspond to what has been observed in PBs. If, taking into account the heterogeneity of the actors, both politicized and non-politicized, within the PB, and the possibly fragile and evanescent character of the observed politicization, it is preferable to speak of style – in the sense in which this term is used by Eliasoph and Lichterman  – rather than of culture, we have nonetheless observed processes of politicization through acculturation. The style of the group of good citizens influences those actors who want to integrate it, and is also partially modified, or negotiated, by the integration of these new members.  In this sense, the process of integration into the group of good citizens, which requires that actors are influenced by their interaction with it, can be qualified as a process of acculturation.
When participation reorients individual and collective trajectories
53Approximately 100 participants, provided that they had been sufficiently invested in the process, became more competent following their experience of participation, and acquired technical, political, and practical knowledge and expertise that they had not previously possessed. But to what extent did this newly acquired civic competence take the form of a recognizable modification of the political practices of the actors, to constitute a bifurcation in their trajectory? Here we tackle the question of the long-term consequences of political participation.
54Participation in the PB can, first of all, take the form of a negative, critical, or cynical politicization. Hundreds of participants in fact quit the exercise in the middle of the year, as indicated by the high rate of turnover.  Some feel that the PB only offers a derisory amount of power to citizens, as illustrated by the slowness and sometimes the absence of the realization of projects approved in PB assemblies, and that it is a way for political powers to manipulate citizens and to stifle protest. Although their exit is generally silent, with actors preferring to vote with their feet, cynicism and disappointment is sometimes openly expressed in the assembly, as this female participant did:
“The PB has done nothing since its creation! It’s shameful! They’re screwing with us. Every time they tell me not to say this or that, that it’s not possible, that it doesn’t fall within the neighborhood’s powers, that it has already been accepted elsewhere, etc. What’s the use, then? I’ve made proposals 10 times over and it hasn’t changed anything.” 
56She calmed down under the quieting influence of some of the participants, but she never came back to the assembly. Disappointed by the model, some participants became more cynical after their participation, as much about participatory democracy in particular as about politics in general. For some, this frustrating experience of participation leads them from an apolitical to an anti-political stance. When more actors end up disappointed than satisfied, one may wonder if, in the end, experiments in participatory democracy, when they do not offer sufficient power to citizens or when the participation is not well enough organized, might have a more negative than positive effect in terms of politicization. Far from making democracy exciting again, these experiments, if they are not conclusive enough, risk reinforcing an allpervading suspicion of public life. While this is not true for all participatory experiences, it is nevertheless appropriate to underline that, in order to have a significant civic impact, experiences must be positively evaluated by citizens, which remains the exception in Europe.
57Although many citizens were disappointed by their participatory experience, others continued to participate despite initial difficulties, and sometimes saw their civic trajectory radically transformed. A dozen individuals engaged in the PB thus reinvested their newly acquired competencies in other organizations. The case of a group of young Roman students is relevant here, as they were not previously engaged but became decisively mobilized in the PB in order to ensure the success of a project for creating a socio-cultural center in their neighborhood. After over a year of active participation in the PB, the project was implemented, with the socio-cultural center directly managed by the students, who had in the meantime created an association. Local associations also look to the PB for potential recruits. Modes of engagement – and of expression – in fact seem largely comparable between the PB and certain neighborhood associations, so much so that the transfer from one to the other can happen easily. I regularly observed leaders from neighborhood associations invite – more or less publicly – active members of the PB to join their organization. In this sense, participatory democracy can appear as a way to revitalize local civil society, by producing new civic actors who strengthen the ranks of existing organizations or encourage the creation of new associations.
58The growing involvement of certain actors with political professionals was also observed. Regular participants of the PB, who were not official members of a party, were contacted and co-opted by elected officials and political parties in order to be added to municipal electoral lists for the next elections. In this context, a prime example is Floriana, who experienced a process of practical politicization, marked by increased political engagement following her participation in the PB.
Newly acquired competencies as well as a developing network constitute resources that the political parties seek to appropriate in their quest for legitimacy and local roots. Floriana was not the only participant in the PB who was asked to be on the electoral lists for the 2006 local elections, but the others refused. The participatory budget can thus appear as an alternative channel for the recruitment of local political elites, alongside the political parties that traditionally fulfill this role. 
59We cannot, however, attribute these changes in trajectory, and more globally this process of politicization, uniquely to participation in the PB. The biographical availability of actors, just like their political and cultural dispositions, also plays a decisive role. One essential condition for politicization through participation is that the engagement be repeated over time in a relatively intensive fashion. The intensity of engagement is itself dependent upon the biographical availability of individuals – thus students and retired people, as well as actors seeking new commitments, are particularly involved in the PB.  In the case of Floriana, her trajectory of politicization cannot be understood if it is not linked to the time freed up by her retirement and the sense of “idleness” that followed. Her engagement thus allowed her to “feel alive again”. The repetition of participation does not depend uniquely on biographical availability, however, but also on the social and political dispositions of individuals. Floriana was thus able to mobilize, in the public space, her previous stock of experiences linked to her professional activity; she had been a certified accountant working for the Ministry of Finances. Furthermore, in order to participate intensively in the PB, one must believe that such a commitment is worth it, that it can have an impact, and that it is desirable therefore to spend time on it – many considerations that are far from shared by a vast majority of citizens in contemporary democracies.  Thus, in order to participate, and to do so regularly, actors must have a minimum level of politicization – in the sense that they do not reject all institutions perceived as political – but the less they are initially politicized, the more they will be affected by their participation; particularly because the over-representation of the most culturally equipped individuals indicates that the least equipped are the least likely to get involved.
60Despite the evident weight of social dispositions, this study has attempted to underline the role of the context of interaction, capable of compensating in part for the unequal resources held by individuals, and which thus creates a favorable environment for individual politicization. Although the weight of social structures and of mechanisms for political relegation make such trajectories improbable, their very existence indicates that what social factors create, they can also undo, and from this point of view, the institutional and procedural conditions of interaction can represent meaningful counterweights to the strength of mechanisms of reproduction.
61The empirical elements presented here, although fragmentary, emphasize the extent to which the three characteristics unique to a pragmatist approach to civic competence intersect in practice. The study of participatory budgets indicates that participants must mobilize resources other than those included in the traditional definition of political competence. Direct reference to the political field even seems (actively) excluded from interactions within these public arenas. How, in these conditions, is a paradoxical process of individual politicization possible? The mechanism that has been observed is the following. Participatory budgets serve as formally open public arenas, allowing for the mobilization and expression of forms of knowledge and of expertise that are generally excluded or marginalized in the political game, principally stemming from the personal experience of actors. The mutual presence within the PB of actors with varied initial competencies, and especially the interactions between engaged and non-engaged participants, creates conditions allowing for the latter to connect their personal experiences to political issues. Ordinary citizens thus learn to see the big picture. The repetition over time of this type of interaction also allows for the acquisition of more lasting competencies, which can be technical, political, or practical. While many actors drop out mid-way – given the extremely high cost of such participation and its often exclusive character for the least culturally equipped – those who stay can attain a more formalized politicization, by joining a political party, an association, or even an electoral list for local elections.  It is thus indeed the expansion of expectations of citizens that leads us to focus on the diversity of their competencies, and at the end of a process-based analysis, allows us to observe significant changes in their civic trajectories.
62The traditional approach to political competence – centered on knowledge of the political field and on the dispositions of actors – would simply not have allowed us to account for the plasticity of individual practices, and would thus have ignored any analysis of processes of politicization that might prove decisive for contemporary democracies. With the decline of traditional forms of mediation and political frameworks, it seems that institutions of participatory democracy might sometimes contribute to the political socialization of working-class individuals. Paradoxically, we are simultaneously seeing the rise of a participatory imperative and the development of a real “hatred of democracy”  which throws ordinary actors into a state of ontological incompetence. In this context, this article has attempted, by emphasizing the plasticity of actors ’ civic competence, to demonstrate that a deepening of democracy is possible, as long as the right institutional, procedural and political circumstances – the frameworks for interaction – are in place to allow the least equipped actors to be able to reflect collectively about their interests and to become sufficiently competent to promote their arguments in the public sphere. While participatory democracy most often remains very far from this ambition and even runs the risk of delegitimizing it, it seems that the emphasis placed on institutional and procedural arrangements as a condition of interaction and learning allows us to raise the fundamental political question of who can speak, and, hence, govern. 
Title inspired by Erving Goffman’s work, Moments and Their Men, published in French as Les moments et leurs hommes (Paris: Minuit, 1988), and by Annie Collovald, “Pour une sociologie des carrières morales des dévouements militants”, in Annie Collovald et al. (eds), L’humanitaire ou le management des dévouements (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2002), 222.
Hannah Arendt, Qu’est-ce que la politique ? (Paris: Seuil, 1995).
See in particular the special issue of the Revue française de science politique, 57(6), 2007; Lionel Arnaud and Christine Guinnet (eds), Les Frontières du politique: Enquêtes sur les processus de politisation et de dépolitisation (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2005); Jacques Lagroye (ed.), La politisation (Paris: Seuil, 2003); the special issue on “Recognition of politics” of the journal Espaces Temps, 76-7, 2001. The 9th Meeting of the Association française de science politique, organized in Toulouse in September 2007, included three workshops on politicization and the relationship of everyday citizens to politics.
See in particular the important article by Nina Eliasoph and Paul Lichterman, “Culture in Interaction”, American Journal of Sociology, 104(4), 2003, 735-94. There are also links to French pragmatist sociology, in particular Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot, De la justification: Les économies de la grandeur (Paris: Gallimard, 1992); Laurent Thévenot, L’action au pluriel (Paris: La Découverte, 2006); Michel Callon, Pierre Lascoumes, and Yannick Barthe, Agir dans un monde incertain: Essai sur la démocratie technique (Paris: Seuil, 2001); Isaac Joseph and Daniel Céfa? (eds), L’héritage du pragmatisme: Conflits d’urbanité et épreuves de civisme (Paris: Éditions de l’Aube, 2002). Online
Lo?c Blondiaux, “Faut-il se débarrasser de la notion de compétence politique? Retour critique sur un concept classique de la science politique”, Revue française de science politique, 57(6), 2007, 759-74. Online
One of course thinks here of Lippman’s critique of the concept of the “omnicompetent citizen”: Walter Lippman, The Phantom Public (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1925). On the link between democratic theory and the conceptualization of political competence, see also George Marcus and Russell Hanson, “The Practice of Democratic Theory”, in G. Marcus and R. Hanson (eds), Reconsidering the Democratic Public (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), 1-32; Bernard Berelson, “Democratic Theory and Public Opinion”, Public Opinion Quarterly, 16(3), 1953, 313-30.Online
Cf. Pierre Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen: Histoire du suffrage universel en France (Paris: Gallimard, 1992).
Studies by Bernard Berelson, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Victor McPhee – such as Voting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954) – underline the public’s lack of interest, as do the hugely significant studies by Philippe Converse which appeared later – “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics”, in David Apter (ed.), Ideology and Discontent (New York: The Free Press, 1964), 206-61 – which support elitist theorists, including: Giovanni Sartori, Democratic Theory (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962); Michel Crozier, Samuel Huntington, and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission (New York: New York University Press, 1975).
Pierre Bourdieu, La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement (Paris: Minuit, 1979), 466.
Robert Luskin, “Explaining political sophistication”, Politicial Behavior, 12(4), 1990, 331-61; Lo?c Blondiaux, “Mort et résurrection de l’électeur rationnel: Les métamorphoses d’une problématique incertaine”, Revue française de science politique 46(5), 1996, 753-91.Online
Cf. Camille Hamidi, “Éléments pour une approche interactionniste de la politisation: engagement associatif et rapport au politique dans des associations locales issues de l’immigration”, Revue française de science politique, 56(1), 2006, 5-25.
Cf. Philippe Converse, “Attitudes and non-attitudes: continuation of a dialogue”, in Edward R. Tufte (ed.), The Quantitative Analysis of Social Problems (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1970), 168-89; Daniel Gaxie, Le cens caché: Inégalités culturelles et ségrégation politique (Paris: Seuil, 1978).
Cf. Marc Sadoun, “Faut-il être compétent?”, Pouvoirs, 120, 2006, 57-69.
Cf. Patricia Conover and Stanley Feldman, “Candidate perception in an ambiguous world: campaigns, cues, and inference processes”, American Journal of Political Science, 33, 1989, 912-41; Victor Ottati and Robert S. Wyer, “The cognitive mediators of political choice: toward a comprehensive model of political information processing”, in John Ferejohn and James Kuklinski (eds), Information and Democratic Processes (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 186-216; Paul Sniderman, Richard Brody, and Philip Tetlock, Reasoning and Choice: Explorations in Political Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
Cf. John Dryzek, “The deliberative turn in democratic theory”, in Deliberative Democracy and Beyond (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002), 1-8.
Lo?c Blondiaux and Yves Sintomer, “L’impératif délibératif”, Politix, 57(15), 2002, 17-35; Lo?c Blondiaux, Le nouvel esprit de la démocratie: Actualité de la démocratie participative (Paris: Seuil, 2008).
Regarding the origins of participatory practices, see Marie-Hélène Bacqué and Yves Sintomer (eds), La démocratie participative: histoires et généalogies (Paris: La Découverte, 2011).
Cf. Patrick Le Galès, “Du gouvernement des villes à la gouvernance urbaine”, Revue française de science politique, 45(1), 1995, 57-95; Jon Pierre and Guy Peters, Governance, Politics and the State (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000); Jean-Pierre Gaudin, Pourquoi la gouvernance? (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2002).
Yves Déloye and Olivier Ihl, L’acte de vote (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2008), 361.
Cf. Albert O. Hirschman, Bonheur privé, action publique (Paris: Fayard, 1983), 192-203.
Cf. Jürgen Habermas, Droit et démocratie (Paris: Gallimard, 1997). It is obviously more a question of an evolution than of rupture, as the link between public space and the political system has taken the shape, in the second half of the twentieth century, of the relationship between trades unions and political parties, as theorists of neocorporatism have analyzed. Cf. Philippe Schmitter and Gerhard Lehmbruch (eds), Trends towards Corporatist Intermediation (London: Sage, 1979). Nevertheless, this mediation took place through classic representative practices – such as the election of union representatives – while it occurs in a much more direct way today. This evolution can be interpreted, as Bernard Manin indicates, as the transition from party to public democracy. Cf. Bernard Manin, The Principles of Representative Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
As Pierre Rosanvallon emphasizes, “The repertoires of political expression, the vectors of this expression, as well as their targets, have simultaneously diversified. […] Citizens thus have many other means than the vote to express their grievances and complaints. […] While the democracy of elections has been incontestably eroded, democracies of expression, involvement, and intervention have spread and grown stronger.” (Pierre Rosanvallon, La contre-démocratie: La politique à l’âge de la défiance (Paris, Seuil, 2006), 26-7).
This evolution is in line with the transition from a “citizenship of obligation”, which is dependent on respect for the law, consent to taxes, and the vote, to a “citizenship of engagement”, which relies on a more active participation by the population in the life of the city, to use the terms of Russell Dalton, The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation is Reshaping American Politics (Washington: CQ Press, 2007).
On the potentially exclusive character of this expansion of modes of public expression, and particularly on the necessity of speaking in public, see Rémi Lefebvre and Frédéric Sawicki, La société des socialistes, le PS aujourd’hui (Bellecombe-en-Bauges: Éditions du Croquant, 2006).
As Lo?c Blondiaux underscores, “This renewed theory of democracy makes individual knowledge of political phenomena a secondary element” (L. Blondiaux, “Faut-il se débarraser de la notion…”, 769).
Cf. Dominique Cardon, Jean-Philippe Heurtin, and Cyril Lemieux, “Parler en public”, Politix, (31), 1995, 5-19; Jacques Ion and Michel Peroni (eds), Engagement public et exposition de la personne (La Tour d’Aigues: Éditions de l’Aube, 1997).
Cf. Alfredo Joignant, “Pour une sociologie cognitive de la compétence politique”, Politix, (65), 2004, 150-73; Samuel Popkin and Michael Dimock, “Political knowledge and citizen competence”, in Stephen Elkin and Karol Soltan (eds), Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1999), 117-46.
To the extent that this argument rests first and foremost on a critical analysis of the concept of ‘political competence ’, this term has been used up to now. But the expansion of the notion that has been proposed now leads us to opt for the term ‘civic competence ’, except when referencing the classically accepted meaning of political competence.
Cf. L. Thévenot, L’action au pluriel.
It is not a matter of rejecting the question of cognition outside the field of political competence, but of proposing an analysis of cognitive practices, rather than a description of the forms of knowledge of actors.
Pierre Bourdieu, Le sens pratique (Paris: Minuit, 1977), 117.
Cf. John Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
Cf. William Gamson, Talking Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Sophie Duchesne and Florence Haegel, “Avoiding or Accepting Conflict in Public Talk”, British Journal of Political Science, 37(1), 2007, 1-22; Sophie Duchesne and Florence Haegel, “La politisation des discussions”, Revue française de science politique, 54(6), 2004, 877-909.
Cf. Nina Eliasoph, Avoiding Politics: How Americans Produce Apathy in their Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
Cf. C. Hamidi, “Éléments pour une approche interactionniste de la politisation”.
Cf. Cass Sunstein, “The law of group polarization”, The Journal of Political Philosophy, 10(2), 2003, 175-95; James Kuklinski (ed.), Citizens and Politics: Perspectives from Political Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
On this important epistemological question, see C. Wright Mills, “Situated actions and vocabularies of motive”, American Sociological Review, 5, 1941, 904-13; for a contemporary interpretation, see Danny Trom, “Grammaires de la mobilisation et vocabulaires de motifs”, in Daniel Céfa? and Danny Trom (eds), Les formes de l’action collective: Mobilisations dans des arènes publiques (Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS, 2001), 99-134. See also Danny Trom, “De la réfutation de l’effet NIMBY considérée comme une pratique militante: Notes pour une approche pragmatique de l’activité revendicative”, Revue française de science politique, 49(1), 1999, 31-50.
Bernard Lahire, L’homme pluriel (Paris: Pluriel, 1995), 92.
One is reminded of the concept of “the civilizing force of hypocrisy”, so important for Jon Elster, “Argumenter et négocier dans deux assemblées constituantes”, Revue française de science politique, 44(2), 1994, 187-257.
See Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (London: Penguin, 1966).
Cf. Alfredo Joignant, “La socialisation politique: stratégies d’analyse, enjeux théoriques et nouveaux agendas de recherche”, Revue française de science politique, 47(5), 1997, 535-59.
See in particular Doug McAdam, “The Biographical Consequences of Activism”, American Sociological Review, 54, 1989, 744-60.
On the use of the concept of “career” in the sociology of social movements, see Olivier Filleule, “Pour une analyse processuelle de l’engagement individuel”, Revue française de science politique, 51(1-2), 2001, 199-17.
For the most recent development in this approach underscoring the roles of cultural or esthetic resources in the recognition of politics, see Alfredo Joignant, “Compétence politique et bricolage: Les formes profanes du rapport au politique”, Revue française de science politique, 57(6), 2007, 799-817.
Institutions of participatory democracy are political institutions in the sense that they are created from above, by elected political officials. Nevertheless, it should be underlined that interactions taking place within them are not initially political, in the sense that concrete and practical problems are addressed there, and that direct references to partisan politics are rejected. One of the stakes of the interactions occurring there is precisely the transition from small to “big politics”, to paraphrase Dewey’s terms.
Here we reference the notion of “conversion” used by Jacques Lagroye to describe the processes of politicization of diverse practices (J. Lagroye, La politisation, op. cit.).
This research takes place within the framework of a broader study, comparing the Roman experiment to that of Morsang-sur-Orge outside Paris and of Seville in Spain. Here I have nevertheless chosen to center the analysis on one single case in order to focus more on the mechanisms of politicization than on the differences linked to the embeddedness of institutions in distinct political and cultural contexts. Cf. Julien Talpin, Schools of democracy. How ordinary citizens (sometimes) become competent in participatory budgeting institutions (Colchester: ECPR Press, 2011).
Cf. A. Joignant, “Compétence politique et bricolage”; S. Duchesne and F. Haegel, “Avoiding or Accepting Conflict in Public Discourse”.
For a defense of the ethnographic approach to analyze politicization, see N. Eliasoph and P. Lichterman, “Culture in Interaction”.
Cf. Yves Sintomer, Carsten Herzbery, and Anja Röcke, Démocratie participative et modernisation des services publics: des affinités éléctives ? Enquête sur les expériences de budget participatif en Europe (Paris: La Découverte, 2008).
Marion Gret and Yves Sintomer, Porto Alegre, L’espoir d’une autre démocratie (Paris: La Découverte, 2002).
Interview with L. Ummarino, city official in charge of participatory budgeting, Rome, 16 December 2004.
See the site of the Roman participatory budgeting program: http://www.municipiopartecipato.it/pages/index/tab/regolamento.
Associazione Progetto Laboratorio Onius, “Il progetto Sensibilizzando”, in Massimilano Smeriglio, Gianluca Peciola, and Luciano Ummarino (eds), Pillola rossa o pillola blu? Pratiche di Democrazia Partecipativa nel Municipio Roma XI (Rome: Intra Moenia Edition, 2005), 160. Translated into French by the author, into English by the translator.
For a critique of the concept of the “ordinary citizen”, see the introduction by Lo?c Blondiaux in Thomas Fromentin and Stéphanie Wojcik (eds), Le profane en politique: Compétences et engagement du citoyen (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008), 37-51.
This article does not seek here to debate the issue, although fundamental, of the legitimacy of decisions made in institutions with such a limited public.
Lucianno Ummarino, “Bilancia Participativo”, in M. Msperiglio et al., Pillola rossa o pillola blu?, 178.
Ernesto d’Albergo (ed), Pratiche partecipative a Roma: Le osservazioni al plano regolatore e il bilancio partecipativo (Rome: Università La Sapienza, 2005), 75-6. These numbers are certainly inflated by the fact that activists are more likely to respond to questionnaires than others.
D. Gaxie, Le cens caché, op. cit.; Sydney Verba, Kenneth Lehman Schlozman, and Henry Brady, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).
This classification is inspired in part by Yves Sintomer, “Du savoir d’usage au métier de citoyen”, Raisons politiques, 31, 2008, 115-33.
Cf. Tali Mendelberg, “The deliberative citizen: theory and evidence”, in Mickaël Delli Carpini et al. (eds), Research on Micro-Politics: Political Decision-Making, Deliberation and Participation, 6 (San Diego: Elsevier Science, 2002), 151-93.
Luc Rouban, “Le client, l’usager et le fonctionnaire: quelle politique de modernisation pour l’administration française?”, Revue française d’administration publique, 59, 1991, 435-44; Catherine Neveu, Citoyenneté et espace public: habitants, jeunes et citoyens dans une ville du Nord (Villeneuve-d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2003).
Cf. Iris M. Young, “Communication and the Other: beyond deliberative democracy”, in Seyla Benhabib (ed.), Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 120-35; Lynn Sanders, “Against deliberation”, Political Theory, 25(3), 1997, 347-76; Francesca Polletta, It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005).
Cf. Marion Carrel, “Susciter un public local: Habitants et professionnels du transport en confrontation dans un quartier d’habitat social”, in Claudia Barril, Marion Carrel, et al. (eds), Le public en action: Usages et limites de la notion d’espace public en sciences sociales (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2003), 219-40.
Cf. Frédérique Matonti and Franck Poupeau, “Le capital militant: Essai de définition”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 155(5), 2004, 4-11.
By bifurcation, we mean a substantial modification of individuals’ civic or political practices. This is a gradual process, without rupture, although one can distinguish a “before” and an “after.” See D. McAdam, “The Biographical Consequences of Activism”, 745-6.
More precisely, 278 people participated in the working-groups in 2004. This number, however, includes individuals who participated in many meetings and were therefore counted more than once, to the extent that we can estimate that about 100 participated regularly in the working-groups.
We accounted essentially for speakers in the working-groups, since the other meetings – elections of delegates or voting – were not set up to have a collective discussion. Thus, 340 of the 430 participants in the workinggroups that we observed spoke up at least once.
This idea is central in all literature about deliberative democracy – of Kantian inspiration – with the force of the message being attributed to the nature of the communication by Habermas, to the strategic quest for convincing the undecided by Elster, or to the submission to certain social norms by Fearon. See Jürgen Habermas, Théorie de l’agir communicationnel (Paris: Fayard, vol. 1, 1987); J. D. Elster, “Argumenter et négocier…”, art cit.; James Fearon, “Deliberation as discussion”, in Jon Elster (ed.), Deliberative Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 44-68.
Observation notes, Tormarencia, Working-group no. 4, Rome, March 28, 2005.
Yves Déloye, École et citoyenneté: L’individualisme républican de Jules Ferry à Vichy: controverses (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1994).
For more empirical materials illustrating how one learns the role of “good citizen”, see Julien Talpin, “Jouer les bons citoyens: Les effets contrastés de l’engagement au sein de dispositifs participatifs”, Politix, 19(75), 2006, 13-31.
A sign of the difficulty of integrating the participatory budgeting institution is the very high degree of turnover, since approximately 50% of participants in 2003 did not come back in 2004.
E. d’Albergo (ed.), Pratiche partecipative a Roma…, 76.
Observation notes, Montagnola, Roma, January-May 2005.
Maurice Agulhon, La république au village (Paris: Plon, 1970). For an excellent review of this literature, see Gilles Pécout, “La politisation des paysans au 19e siècle: Réflexions sur l’histoire politique des campagnes françaises”, Histoire et sociétés rurales, 2, 1994, 91-125.
Yves Déloye, “Pour une sociologie historique de la compétence à opiner ‘politiquement ’. Quelques hypothèses de travail à partir de l’histoire électorale française”, Revue française de science politique, 57(6), 2007, 795.
N. Eliasoph and P. Lichterman, “Culture in Interaction”. Group style arises from a recurrent structure of interactions resting on shared discursive practices and practices of shared sociability, and more or less porous symbolic boundaries that all define the appropriate attitude within the group and construct the image of the good member of the group. The concept of “group style” itself arises from a discussion of certain notions from the second Chicago school, and particularly that of “subculture” according to Gary Alan Fine. See Gary A. Fine and Sherryl Kleinman, “Rethinking subculture: an interactionist analysis”, The American Journal of Sociology, 85(1), 1979, 1-20. We thus see the extent to which the boundary is tenuous between style and subculture, which tends to support the use of the concept of acculturation. In the case of participatory budgeting institutions, as we have seen, the good citizen must participate regularly, speak in public, promote the general interest, avoid partisan and ideological discourse, propose concrete projects, and listen to others. It is to this type of style that the least initially politicized actors were acculturated after their regular participation in the institution.
Thus, the rejection of partisan speeches within participatory budgeting institutions (even if it is inscribed in a deeper cultural matrix) is principally the work of non-politicized actors who, although they can be seen as being dominated within the institution, are capable of defining certain rules of the game and of keeping the activists in line. The style, while it is not produced by the situation – it has its own historicity – is shaped through interactions.
Out of the 978 participants in 2003, just over 500 did not take part in the process in 2004, for example. Just as many activists as non-engaged participants dropped out from one year to the next.
Observation notes, Roma 70, Working-group no. 3, April 12, 2005.
Cf. James Jaspers, The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001).
Interview with Floriana, Rome, March 28, 2006.
I emphasize that recruitment outside the party is a reasonably classic practice at the municipal level, but that it generally targets local association leaders, who have a different profile from the most professionalized members of the participatory budgeting institution who are on municipal councils. On this subject, see Christian Le Bart, Les Maires: Sociologie d’un rôle (Villeneuve-d’Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2003).
Sources: E. d’Albergo, ed., Practiche partecipative a Roma… op cit.
On the concept of “biographical availability”, see Doug McAdam, “Recruitment of high-risk activism: the case of Freedom Summer”, American Journal of Sociology, 92, 1986, 64-90.
On this point, see in particular Céline Braconnier and Jean-Yves Dormagen, La démocratie de l’abstention: Aux origines de la démobilisation électorale en milieu populaire (Paris: Gallimard, 2007).
Here it’s useful to compare the example of the 20th arrondissement in Paris, which has been the subject of my recent research, where three of the 29 local councilors from the municipal majority party came originally from neighborhood councils, proof that this phenomenon of politicization, and even of professionalization, goes beyond the case of participatory budgeting and touches the majority of local democratic institutions.
Jacques Rancière, La haine de la démocratie (Paris: La Fabrique, 2005).
The author would like to thank Mathieu Berger, Lo?c Blondiaux, Marion Carrel, Yves Déloye, Sophie Duchesne, Bernard Manin, and Stéphanie Wojcik for their comments on an earlier version of this text.