I first came across the Baan Mankong case while researching for the BU2 (Participatory Processes: Building for Development) essay last December. At the time, my interpretation of the case was, at best, simplistic; however, even though 5 months have passed since then, I still perceive the programme for the most part in the same way: as financially enabling, strongly betting on savings groups so that the flexible finance can link with people’s collective financial base. This is fundamental to secure tenure which, in turn, is essential not only regarding legal permission to occupy and stay on site, but to recognize that the poor have legal rights to the city thus deserving social recognition.
Upon this, the strategy of the Baan Mankong participatory approach was viewed as capability-based focusing on communitarian self-help, “[showcasing] the level of real freedoms people actually have to achieve the valued functions that constitute their self-defined well-being” (Dong, 2008, p. 82). This approach fits in the context of poverty, inequality, and the design of social institutions. It promotes the idea that focusing in accounting for a person’s “capability to achieve certain actions… strengthens governance, not just at the level of macroeconomic measures but also in terms of civic engagement and citizenship” (Dong, 2008, p. 78).
So, if I could only use one word as an adjective for Baan Mankong I would say ‘conservative’. Conservative in the sense that it (un)consciously accepts (to the best of my knowledge at this point) that urban land and respectable housing are only available to those who want and can afford to buy or lease, rather than challenging that fact. Its participatory approach is somewhat limited because it expects the engagement of homogeneous individuals with equal homogeneous goals and equal financial power. It relies on deliberative democracy, sense of community, and consensus ̶ and, here, the 3 are in part a form of exclusion. This raises some questions: what is to become of those who disagree? What are their options, and do they even have any? Is part of their needs satisfied or not satisfied at all?
Dong, A. (2008) “The Policy of Design: A Capabilities Approach” from Design issues 24 (4) pp.76-87. US: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.