In recent years there has been a growing interest in new participatory forms of urban governance. This introduction provides readers with a basic review of current debates in the literature and a summary of the articles presented in the symposium. The introduction highlights two major tensions in the literature. First, many scholars operate under an assumption that plural actors can achieve a lasting and rational consensus on certain issues. Others believe that where there is consensus, there is also a silenced margin. For these critics, rather than focusing on building power‐laden consensus, it is better to recognize and respect conflict and difference as normal parts of the governance process. Second, the introduction considers some of the possibilities for cross‐national comparisons of participatory governance regimes. Scholars should not limit their analyses to institutional designs across countries but assess the importance of particular sociopolitical contexts in giving formal institutions their actual meanings and functions.