Exclusion and categorical inequality have persisted in Nepal despite attempts at inclusive reforms after the 2006 regime change (Mallik, 2013; GoN & UNDP, 2014). Human Development Index as well as levels of income show a clear association between inequality and collective identity based on caste and ethnicity (GoN & UNDP, 2014). Despite relevant inclusive policies, significant implementation gaps exist, which are explained by the resistance by those in control of the institutions and policy-making (Bennett, 2004). Efforts at democratisation and development have also been problematic. While the top down process is characterised by lack of accountability, exclusionary institutions, poor governance, and appropriation of resources by elites, the bottom up process is hindered by ineffectual mobilisation of demand, especially among disadvantaged groups (Mallik, 2013).
Approaches to power differ about its “essence,” but there is a general agreement that power is relational and has an impact on subjectivity and social relations (Domhoff, 2012; Gaventa, 2005; Foucault, 1982). The relational nature of power implies that asymmetric social interactions play a significant role in generating durable social and economic inequalities, which are supported by social categories that justify and sustain unequal advantage (Tilly, 1999). Social ties and inter-personal transactions depend not only on the nature of power relations, but also on the “concept of power” (Boehm & Flack, 2010). The concept of power, which may be modified by the cultural systems of reward and punishment as well as by rational calculations, influences decisions about agonistic interactions and determines evolution of power structures (Wrangham & Glowacki, 2012; Boehm & Flack, 2010).
Existing power relations in the society influences democratic processes at the local level, to the extent that participation and representation may not necessarily lead to empowerment of marginalised communities (Blair, 2000). Two of the key challenges of democratic local governance are lack of accountability and the ability of local elite to control local level decision-making and appropriate benefits. These two factors undermine the ability of decentralisation and democratic governance to reduce poverty arising from categorical inequalities (Blair, 2000; Manor, 1999, 2011). These studies indicate that the success of democratic local governance at the local level are closely tied to the issue of power relations and the ability of marginalised groups to influence decision-making.
Processes of democratisation and social change do not guarantee a shift in power relations because social reforms are resisted by the power elites and inequalities are deeply embedded in relationships and institutions (Moncrieffe, 2004; Domhoff, 2012; Castells 2011). It is necessary to understand the “concept of power”, as well as the systems of reward and punishment in a specific community, to understand the people’s ability to engage in contentious politics and the processes and mechanisms through which the people can empower themselves. The concept of power prevalent in a community, or the systems of reward and punishment, can change due to cultural transmission and cultural learning.
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Boehm, C., & Flack, J.C. (2010). The emergence of simple and complex power structures through social niche construction. In Guinote, A. & Vescio, T.K. (Eds.), The social psychology of power (pp. 46–86). New York: Guilford Press.
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