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State-Civil Society Relations in the Social Area. Thoughts on the Colombian Case

Darío I. Restrepo Botero

Social participation and its objectives are defined in the case of Colombia. A study is made of the participating groups, their activities and purposes. The criteria for construction of a public space between society and the State are presented, with reference to the new social subjects and the principles of adequate, effiicent and democratic social participation.

Social participation suggests the various mechanisms and forums of society that influence state structures and public plicy. At present, the debate on social participation refers to another scope of mediation between the State and Society, which is participational democracy, as opposed to representational democracy which is the object of criticism from various quarters.

The Colombian constitution proclaimed participation to be the principle that defines the State; it is placed in economic, administrative and political areas, as well as in sectoral and national programmes. The objectives of participation in these areas point to the creation of a new culture, with a direct commitment by citizens and communities to the collective interest.

The set of changes that take place in State-Society relations through social participation can be summarised in three broad variables: 1) State socialisation; 2) statification of Society; and 3) social control of the State and social self-control. The actors called upon by social participation are two broad groups: the private sector and the community sector.

The promotion of social participation can be realised as a function of the strengthening of civil society and the strengthening of social organisations. In practice, the creation of community networks is recommended, one of the principal objectives being systematisation of experiences as a source of information for public policy-making.

The main purpose of participation is the strengthening of community capacities, with a redical critical approach towards community work as assistance. In terms of development, it is less costly to take an interest in the process of mobilisation of social resources than in the short-term empirical results requested by international agencies and national institutions.

The opening-up of public forums to participation is not enough to make civil society more dynamic and democratic. A basic objective of social participation is the democratisation of public policy, which implies democratisation of the society called upon to define them. To a great extent, the achievements of social participation will be conditioned by the way that State-Society relations are generated. The State’s system of contracting with private parties conditions this relationship, and it should be pointed out that in general, Latin American countries have no specific contracting statute with communities and development NGOs.

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