Building Local Democracy in Barcelona

Author: Blakeley, Georgina
There is an abundant literature on the Spanish transition to democracy as viewed from the level of the Spanish national polity and of the national political elites. The view from civil society and from particular localities is much less explored. This book fills this gap by seeking to understand the process of democratisation from the local level, the level of politics closest to the ordinary citizen. Through an empirical case study of politics in the city of Barcelona, this book sheds light on the relationship between democratisation and citizen participation in associations and social movements within civil society. The focus is on both the process of democratisation and the outcome of that process, namely, the kind of democracy established.

At the core of the book are three questions. First, what role did citizen participation play in the process of democratisation? Second, what was the impact of citizen participation on the kind of democracy established? And finally, what are the consequences of trying to create a more participatory democracy within the shell of capitalist, liberal democracy? The book answers these questions by drawing on a variety of sources and methods including extensive interviews with key local political actors.


This book is a very helpful and significant contribution. As a student of Spanish affairs I am aware of an abundant literature concerning that country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy as viewed from the level of the Spanish national polity and of the national political elites. The view from the level of civil society and of particular localities is much less explored. This manuscript serves very substantially to fill such gaps. As someone interested in the issue of political participation, and related questions concerning the nature of functioning of liberal-democracy, I also find the manuscript most helpful and illuminating. The author approaches such matters with both conceptual clarity and a keen eye for detail. Theoretical issues are handled in a sophisticated manner. At the same time theory is, consistently related to and grounded in ample very well researched empirical materials. It is written in a very clear and readily accessible style. The work deserves to find a wide readership. The Reverend Canon Professor Ken Medhurst, Bradford Cathedral.

The Barcelona participation model has received considerable attention In diverse academic and political forums. However, up to now there has not been any global overview and analysis of its performance and limits. Georgina Blakeley's book plays this crucial role and thus fills this vacuum in the social sciences literature about local participation.

The analysis is especially lucid and balanced. The Barcelona local government will not be able to claim that their main achievements to build a participatory city are not incorporated: from decentralization, to advisory councils or strategic planning the main participatory tools are explained and valued in the text. On the other side its critics will recognize their voice in the text: their arguments are presented and the book is especially brilliant in its discussions about the limits and shortfalls of Barcelona's participation...... The book is a great contribution to make clear what has been achieved and how much is still to be built. John Front, Political Science Lecturer, U.A.B.

The significance of this book is two-fold. It provides a new window on the transition to democracy in Catalonia. As such, it will be warmly welcomed by contemporary historians of Spain. But the relevance of the material in this book also goes beyond the case of Spain. Georgina Blakeley situates the story of the struggles for citizenship and democracy in Catalonia within wider debates concerning processes of democratic transition and consolidation. Here, discussion has frequently turned on the intellectual controversy concerning the differences between elite-led transitions and those characterised instead by waves of popular demand and intense civil society activity. Do elite-led transitions make for stable, but limited democracy? Do civil society led transitions reflect popular aspirations, but tend to polarise social divisions? On these questions, Georgina Blakely takes a perspective which tries to mediate between these two positions, making visible the role of civil society and citizenship struggles for democracy in processes of social change and transformation, whilst at the same time remaining aware that this is but one of several games being played out in democratisation. As such the book has a theoretical relevance that will make it important to scholars interested in questions of democracy-building in general. It provides evidence both of the widespread human desire for democracy and the difficulties of creating it. (From the Foreword, Professor Jean Grugel, University of Sheffield).

Table of Contents

List of Tables
l. Introduction
1.1. Competing Explanations of Democratisation
1.1.1 Structural Context
1.1.2 Elite Agency
1.1.3 Collective Agency
1.2 The Role of Civil Society
1.2.1 The 'Contingency' of the Barcelona Model
1.3 Organisation of the Book
2. Civil Society: From Concept to Action
2.1 Competing Perspectives on Civil Society
2.2 Normative Schizophrenia
2.3 The Liberal Separation of Spheres
2.4 Civil Society Today
2.5 The Continuing Validity of Civil Society
3. Weaving an Associational Fabric in Barcelona: The Threads of Class, Nation and Anarcho-Syndicalism
3.1 Industrialisation and Civil Society
3.1.1 Working Class Associationalism
3.1.2 Bourgeois Associationalism
3.2 A State-Less Nation
3.2.1 A Puny Leviathan?
3.2.2 Catalan Nationalism
3.3 The Dominance of Anarcho-Syndicalism
3.31 The Emergence of the CNT
3.4 The Restoration System
3.5 The Restoration Impasse
3.6 The Iron Surgeon
3.7 The Second Republic
3.7.1 The Catalan Nation State
3.7.2 The Party System
3.7.3 The Differential Factor
4. Civil Society Under the Shadow of the Dictatorship
4.1 The Repression of Catalonia
4.2 Working Class Opposition in the Face of Adversity
4.3 Economic Recuperation and the Transformation of Spain
4.4 The Resurrection of Civil Society
4.4.1 The 'New' Labor Movement
4.4.2 The Neighbourhood Movement
4.5 The Role of the United Socialist Party of Catalonia
4.6 The Catalan Assembly
4.7 Barcelona: the 'Opposition' Capital
5. Revolution in the City: Decentralisation and Citizen
Participation in Barcelona
5.1 Taking the First Steps Towards a More Participatory Democracy
5.2 Barcelona's Model of Governance
5.2.1 Private Sector Participation
5.2.2 Civil Society Participation
5.2.3 The City Council as 'Driver'
5.3 Consolidating Decentralisation and Citizen Participation 1988-1999
5.4 The Municipal Charter
5.5 Moving Forward the 2002 Regulatory Norms of Citizen Participation
6. Revolution in the City Tamed: Structural and Contingent
Limitations to Barcelona's Participatory Experiment
6.1 Structural Barriers to Participation
6.1.1 Informal Barriers to Participation
6.1.2 Self-Selecting Elite
6.2 The Role of Local Government A Double-Edged Sword
6.3 Associational Weaknesses and Difficulties
6.4 The Mistrust towards Civil Society
6.5 The Relationship between Political Parties and Civil Society
6.5.1 Civil Society and Nation-Building the CDC
6.5.2 Civil Society and Municipalism: the PSC
6.5.3 Civil Society and Hegemony: the PSUC
6.5.4 Renovation
7. Conclusion
Appendix One
Appendix Two
Bibliography Index