Recent discussions in development have moved away from holistic theorisation towards more localised, empirical and inductive approaches. In development practice there has been a parallel move towards local ‘participation’ and ‘empowerment’, which has produced, albeit with very different agendas, a high level of agreement between actors and institutions of the ‘new’ Left and the ‘new’ Right. This paper examines the manifestations of this move in four key political arenas: decentralised service delivery, participatory development, social capital formation and local development, and collective actions for ‘radical democracy’. We argue that, by focusing so heavily on ‘the local’, the see manifestations tend to underplay both local inequalities and power relations as well as national and transnational economic and political forces. Following from this, we advocate a stronger emphasis on the politics of the local, ie on the political use of ‘the local’ by hegemonic and counter-hegemonic interests.