Transformative left-wing parties' and grassroots organizations: Unpacking the politics of " top-down" and " bottom-up" development

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Academic analyses of the potential for agents to transform development processes have been dominated by social movement theorists who focus on the prospects for creating an alternative to development that challenges the status quo. This has downplayed the role of political parties in the transformation process. This article takes the South African Communist Party (SACP) as a unit of analysis by drawing from a case study in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, where the local SACP has assisted with mobilizing a community-based organization in an informal settlement called S'swetla where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) purportedly imposed development onto residents. The local SACP viewed its intervention as pro-poor and bottom-up. It appeared initially to offer a transformative alternative to the official approach taken by the Alexandra Development Forum (ADF), an invited participatory space adopted by the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP) - a flagship project of the ANC. This paper uses this example to problematize the simplistic dichotomy between top-down and bottom-up development in the context of a political party that claims to be committed to pro-poor and people-driven development. In doing so, it argues that theorists must pay closer empirical attention to the politics of both invited and invented participatory spaces in order to understand the implications that this has for transforming development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-198
Number of pages9
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Alternative development
  • Community mobilization
  • Political parties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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