We focus on the governance instrument of partnerships for rural areas, because these have become important for the implementation of rural development policy in Britain. Emergent forms of governance are often assumed to enhance participatory democracy as they facilitate the involvement of nongovernmental actors and citizens. However, governmental policies about partnerships often use `representation¿ to democratically legitimise these new forms. Partnership members themselves also use these concepts in their everyday language¿they too say that they represent and participate. We explore the different meanings of both being a representative and being a participant, based on a qualitative study of three local rural partnerships in Wales. Our analysis reveals important nuances in how four types of representatives (from the public, private, community, and voluntary sectors) differ in their perceived duties and attitudes towards their constituencies. But, above all, most partnership members see themselves rather as participants than as representatives. However, partnership members can also hide behind being participants in two ways. First, they can downplay their organisational membership and their organisation¿s self-interest. Partnership members who most actively participate in `driving the partnership forward¿ are also those who have the most self-interest in doing so. And, second, they do not have to worry about accountability mechanisms because their individualised participation has been decoupled from responsiveness to `others¿. The neoliberal notions of participation obscure the political nature of working in partnership where decisions over rural development have to be made among members with different and possibly conflicting interests.
- local governance