Governance is commonly described as the governmental form typical of late-modernity resulting from the collaboration between government and civil society. Governance – we are told – is to be preferred to previous governmental patterns for not only is it more cost-effective but also participatory and empowering. This paper takes such claims at face value and examines them ethnographically to see how they are applied in relation to immigrants in the ‘progressive’ city of Barcelona , paying particular attention to the meaning of participation and empowerment. The paper argues that immigrants’ participation in governance de facto means participation in token consultative institutions and in policy-implementation by proxy (i.e. through native ‘pro-immigrant’ NGOs hired to deliver public services to immigrants). It also argues that the empowerment that derives from participating in governance is greater for the government (which gain legitimization and a politically correct image) and for the native non-profit ‘immigration industry’ (contracted to deliver public services) than it is for immigrants, who are largely politically neutralised and excluded from the formal political system.
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