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Narratives of civil society participation often paint an overly rosy picture of engaged citizens enlivening democratic deliberation and democratizing decision making. This chapter draws on ethnographic research in a “new democratic space” in northeastern Brazil to explore the politics of institutionalized civil society participation in health governance. Told in three installments, this chapter traces the biography of a participatory health council through different periods of membership, leadership, and local government administrations. In doing so, it juxtaposes the normative assumptions of narratives of civil society with the politics and dynamics of participation in this particular political, cultural, and social context.

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