Local development projects and community power structure. a proposal for an analytical framework based on capability approach



In Italy the recent debate on local development is focused on two, different but connected, topics: the inner areas and the "consciousness of place" (Magnaghi, 2010). 

About the first topic, the growing interest in inner areas is due to the National Strategy for Inner Areas, a national development policy started in 2014, designed as a prototype of "place-based approach" for Italian areas characterized by demographic decline and by lack of essential services. The “place-based approach” was proposed by Fabrizio Barca in 2009, through a report commissioned by the European Commission to raise proposals in order to improve Development and Cohesion Policies in 2014-2020. According to this approach, development policies should generate public goods and public services designed through participatory processes, involving different political levels (multi-level governance) and combining external technical knowledge with local knowledge. The last one is embedded in representative people (mayors, city councilors, representatives of economic sectors), but also in the so-called "relevant people" (activists, changemakers) (Barca, 2009). According to Barca, the place-based approach should undermine economic and social power structures that can be considered as "traps of underdevelopment" (Barca, 2015), through the participatory process and the support provided by the State to the local changemakers.

About the second topic, the “consciousness of place” are development projects based on the local community action, both in urban areas and in rural and inner areas. It is talking about bottom-up development processes that should increase social cohesion and they should promote human, social and economic development through the recognition and the enhancement of local heritage and local resources. These projects, poetically defined as " consciousness of place" (Magnaghi, 2010; Becattini, 2015; Magnaghi, 2017), tend to different forms of "sovereignty" such as food, energetic, economic, political (participatory democracy), territorial (self-government of commons) sovereignty (Magnaghi, 2010). 

Community power structure is a theme related to both the topics: the "place-based approach" is intentioned to break the power dynamics that undermine the possibility of a "sane" development, through participatory processes; the "consciousness of place" tend to self-government, to public-private agreements and to different forms of sovereignty, with the aim to empower the local community.

However, the literature about both topics doesn't explain three fundamental points:

  • how power structures could be identified and analyzed, especially those that may be damaging for development;

  • what are the most important power aspects that deserve attention to foster the development;

  • how the change in power structures could be analyzed and evaluated.

The Community power structure literature is still based on books back to the period 1950-1970 and on the opposition between elitists and pluralists. The elitist trend (started by Lynd and Hunter) conceives the power as monopolized by a unique economic elite and the reputational procedure is used to design the power structure, instead according to the pluralist trend (started by Dahl) the power is believed to be widespread among different leaders of various sectors and the power structure analysis is focused on the influence of people or groups on decision-making process. 

In brief, the Community Power Structure literature is focused on leadership's and decision-making process' analysis. Although they remain important dimensions of power, nowadays the local development processes face the power theme in terms of redistribution of power on different levels (the individual, the group and the local community level).  So this kind of development processes requires new analytical tools in order to study the evolution and the redistribution of power, the personal and contextual conditions that make possible the access and the "practice" of power. 

The paper proposes a new analytical framework based on capability approach to study how the community power structure could be analyzed and how it changes in areas interested by development processes based on participation and empowerment of the local community.  The paper also resumes the first results of an ongoing fieldwork period, used to apply the analytical framework on two development projects in two different Italian areas: Palermo in Sicily and Fontecchio in a post-earthquake area of Abruzzo. 

local development, collective capabilities, community power structure

scroll to top