Journal Article

Voicing noise: Political agency and the trialectics of participation in urban Malawi


Participation is promoted as the main engine for transformation in urban planning and slum upgrading in Malawi, despite the fact that most projects never get beyond the planning stage. Serious participation fatigue has been identified in many areas, but little is done to change the dominant script. This article comes out of an action research project with groups of urban poor and their organizations in Malawi. It analyses existing spaces in which participatory planning and slum upgrading take place, and reflects on what combinations of participatory spaces that might serve to enable change. The authors define political agency and locate potential transformation in agonistic spaces that open up for rupture and for people’s interest to be accepted as voice rather than noise. At the same time, participants in urban Malawi often wish to be included into existing frameworks rather than challenging them. The article therefore explores a third way between a programme of insurgent radical action and the more pragmatic consensus-based participation model practised in Malawi today. Here, the potential for transformation is to be found not within one group or one type of space, but in the ways in which different spaces of participation connect, overlap and partly constitute each other. To better understand the transformative potential of participation in the context of urban planning in Malawi, we thus propose a ‘trialectics’ of participatory spaces where ‘claimed’, ‘invited’ and ‘invented’ dimensions of participation connect, overlap, and open up for ways in which actors can meet.

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Refstie, Hilde
Brun, Cathrine

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment\School of Architecture


Year of publication: 2016
Date of RADAR deposit: 2016-06-21

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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