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Civil Society: Theory and reality


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Title: Civil Society: Theory and reality

Civil Society Theory and reality
  • Dr. Suvi Salmenniemi
  • Department of Sociology
  • University of Helsinki

Outline of the lecture
  • Civil society theories definitions and debates
  • Civil society in socialism?
  • Renaissance of civil society
  • Perspectives to postsocialist civil societies
    theoretical dilemmas

Civil society theories
  • Two types of conceptualizations of civil
  • Civil society conceptualized in terms of space
    civil society as a distinctive sphere (What is
  • In terms of functions what tasks is civil
    society supposed to perform? (What does it do?)

Spatial definition
  • Civil society is a broad term that captures a
    wide range of civic organizations operating
    outside the realm of government, business, and
    the family. (Sarah L. Henderson)
  • Civil society refers to a set of institutions
    civic organizations/NGOs, trade unions, religious
    societies, free media etc.

Public/private distinction
  • The public-private dichotomy has traditionally
    referred to two distinctions
  • 1. The state versus society (public vs. private
  • 2. The state and society versus the domestic
  • In the first distinction, civil society is placed
    in the private sphere and in the latter in the

  • Peggy Watson civil society should be conceived
    of as a domain of fluctuating yet stable power
    relations constituted by, yet also existing
    beyond, the interactions of specific social
  • Agency in and access to civil society is
    conditioned by such factors as race, class,
    gender etc.

Functional approach to civil society
  • Michael W. Foley Bob Edwards
  • Civil Society I associated with Alexis de
    Tocqueville and Robert Putnam emphasizes
    associational life as a facilitator of patterns
    of civility in the actions of citizenry,
    cultivating norms of reciprocity, trust and
  • Civil Society II associated with the Eastern
    European intellectual tradition that draws on the
    Gramscian notion of counter-hegemony civil
    society as a sphere independent from the state
    and defending the individual against it.

  • Civil society I emphasizes the positive effects
    of associational life for governance
  • Civil society II stresses the conflictual
    potential of civil society as a counterforce to
    the state.

Jeffrey C. Alexander
  • Civil society I CS as an inclusive,
    umbrella-like concept referring to a plethora of
    institutions outside the state. Moral force
  • Civil society II CS associated with market
    capitalism. Marx CS a field for the play of
    egoistical, purely private interests arena of
    class oppression.
  • Civil society III CS as a sphere that is
    analytically independent of and to varying
    degrees empirically differentiated from the state
    and the market and other social spheres. Concept
    for empirical enquiry.

Jean Cohen Andrew Arato
  • Distinction between political civil
  • Political society mediates between civil society
    and the state
  • Civil society as an arena of citizens
  • Political society directly involved with state
    power ltgt civil society

Civil society in socialism?
  • During the Cold War and today civil society
    discussion marked by heavy political baggage and
    normatively loaded stands
  • State socialism civil society officially defined
    as a bourgeois institution unsuitable for
    peoples democracy
  • Eastern European intellectuals the Gramscian
    counter-hegemonic version of civil society a
    crucial conceptual tool in the struggle against
    Communist rule
  • In the West, absence of civil society in
    socialism seen as a manifestation of lack of
    democracy also seen as a problem in postsocialism

Civil society in socialism? YES
  • Spatial argument there were elements of civil
    society in socialist societies e.g. trade
    unions, sport organizations, composers and
    writers unions, etc. -- although they were
    connected with the state.
  • Anna Rotkirch The civil society of late
    socialism had a positive content special niches,
    environments and spheres of activity that were
    less ideologically regulated from above, and
    where alternative ideologies and ways of being
    were nurtured.

Socialist social order (Zdravomyslova Voronkov)
  • Official public Party-state apparatus, official
    collectives and societal organizations
  • Informal Public (seeds of civil society) Shadow
    economy, dissident groups, samizdat, sub- and
    counter cultures, kitchens, cafeterias,
    ecological and intellectual movements, ethnic
  • Private Family, kin, love, friendship

Civil society in socialism? NO
  • Functional approach e.g. L.P. Borisov (1996)
    Some elements of civil society (family, working
    community, social organizations) can appear…
    under a totalitarian regime as well, but the lack
    of necessary conditions that could ensure the
    independence of those elements from political
    power and their right to self-governance and
    independent activity makes it impossible to
    consider a society a civil one

  • Oleg Kharkhordin civil society makes sense
    only if it includes individual freedom.
  • Michael Urban civil society as a sphere that is
    characterized by normative discourse that aims at
    achieving understanding between different social
    groups in society communication in public
  • ? no civil society in socialist societies
  • Civil society in West individuals organize into
    voluntary associations around certain interests
    which they represent to others (…), thus linking
    themselves to one another within these
    associations, producing social identities.

Renaissance of civil society
  • The collapse of the USSR and the whole Eastern
  • Democratization in Latin America and South Africa
  • Civil society as an important conceptual tool to
    criticise and oppose authoritarian and communist
  • Crisis of the welfare state in West and East
    and the rise of neoliberal political agenda
    civil society, understood as the third sector
    to take more responsibility for social protection
    and welfare

Civil society orthodoxy
  • NGOs civil society democracy
  • Civil society as liberation or as (benevolent)
  • Civil society as medicine metaphors of
    sickness, health and nature

Perspectives to postsocialist civil society
Theoretical dilemmas
  • 3 approaches to understanding post-socialist
    civil society in contemporary scholarly
    literature examples from the Russian context but
    apply to the general discussion of civil society
    in postsocialism
  • 1. evaluative
  • 2. theoretical
  • 3. empirical-comparative

Evaluative approach
  • Esp. in the studies dealing with the effects of
    Western democracy aid to postsocialist NGOs
  • Assesses and measures postsocialist civil
    society is there a civil society and what is its
    level of development?
  • Western, most often American, associational life
    and the third sector model as the starting point
  • E.g. Sarah L. Henderson The aim is to assess
    the degree to which Western assistance can
    facilitate the emergence of civil society, and
    ultimately, democracy in countries where
    domestically such impulses are nonexistent or

Theoretical approach
  • Alternative theorization of and research
    programme for studying civil society based on
    Russian history and culture.
  • Western-based understandings of civil society are
    insufficient and unsuitable for understanding
    Russian civil society
  • E.g. Oleg Kharkhordin and Vadim Volkov

Kharkhodin and the O-stream
  • Charles Taylor distinction between two
    traditions of civil society in Western
    philosophical and political thought
  • L-stream (following Locke) the Anglo-American
    liberal tradition, which conceptualizes civil
    society as a pre-political ethical community with
    a minimal role for the state. Linked with
  • The M-stream (following Montesquieu) a
    Tocquevillean vision of civil society as a set of
    associations that mediate relations between the
    state and the individual. Connected with
  • Kharkhordin an O-stream -- a Russian civil
    society based on the traditions of Orthodox

Vadim Volkov Obshchestvennost
  • Does not question the applicability of the
    concept of civil society in Russia, but sees it
    as having been inadequately translated instead
    of grazhdanskoe obshchestvo he proposes
  • This is an example of a cross-cultural
    translation instead of formal concept
  • Structural-functional approach problematic Not
    everything that is outside the state or that
    opposes or corrupts the state can be associated
    with civil society. Informal networks have a very
    limited capacity to constructively influence the

Chris Hann
  • The standard Western civil society model is not
    necessarily the model that best captures the
    logic and structure of post-communist civil
    society it may build upon different kinds of
    social practices and institutions
  • The concept of civil society needs to be
    broadened, relativised and adapted to local
  • The civil society debate has been too narrowly
    circumscribed by Western models of
    liberal-individualism The exploration of civil
    society requires that careful attention be paid
    to a range of informal interpersonal practices
    which were of central importance in state
    socialist societies and are still in
    post-socialist societies

Empirical-comparative approach
  • Marc Morjé Howard comparative study of
    postcommunist civil societies
  • Civil society can be measured empirically
    according to certain common standards to explain
    why civil societies differ historically and
  • Civil society operationalized for the purposes of
    comparative empirical research as citizens
    membership and participation in voluntary
  • This approach cannot catch those logics and
    practices of civil society outside formal
    participation in voluntary organizations

Civil society as a discourse
  • How do different actors use the concept of civil
    society and what functions does it have?
  • Global circulation of civil society
  • Susan Gal As they concepts and agendas pass
    across boundaries of states, political economies
    and gender regimes they are decontextualized and
    recontextualized, fitted into other discourses
    which may change the meaning of arguments.
  • Study on civil society as a discourse can offer
    clues about the political culture in different

  • Alexander, J. C. (1998) Introduction. Civil
    society I, II, III Constructing an Empirical
    Concept from Normative Controversies and
    Historical Transformations. In Alexander, J. C.
    (ed.) Real Civil Societies. Dilemmas of
    Institutionalisation. Sage, London, 1-20.
  • Cohen, J.L. A. Arato (1992) Civil society and
    political theory. MIT.
  • Foley, M.W. Edwards, B. (1996) The paradox of
    civil society. Journal of Democracy 73, 38-52.
  • Hann, C. (1996) Introduction Political society
    and civil anthropology. In Hann, C. Dunn, E.
    (eds.) Civil Society. Challenging Western Models.
    Routledge, London and New York, 1-26.
  • Hann, C. (2002) Farewell to the socialist
    other. In Hann, C.M. (eds.) Postsocialism.
    Ideals, ideologies and practices in Eurasia.
    Routledge, New York and London, 1-11.
  • Hemment, Julie (1998) Colonization or Liberation
    The Paradox of NGOs in Postsocialist States. The
    Anthropology of East Europe Review 161.
  • Henderson, Sarah (2003) Building Democracy in
    Contemporary Russia Western Support to
    Grassroots Organizations. Cornell University
    Press, Ithaca.
  • Howard, M.M. (2002a) Postcommunist Civil Society
    in Comparative Perspective. Demokratizatsiya
    103, 285-306.

  • Howard, M.M.(2003) The Weakness of Civil Society
    in Post-Communist Europe. Cambridge University
    Press, Cambridge.
  • Kharkhordin, O. (1998)Civil society and Orthodox
    Christianity. Europe-Asia Studies 506, 949-968.
  • Rotkirch, A. (2000) The Man Question. Loves and
    Lives in Late 20th Century Russia. University of
    Helsinki, Helsinki.
  • Urban, M. (with Igrunov, V. Mitrokhin, S.)
    (1997) The Rebirth of Politics in Russia.
    Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Volkov, V. (2003) Obshchestvennost Russias
    Lost Concept of Civil Society. In Götz, N.
    Hackmann, J. (eds.) Civil Society in the Baltic
    Sea Region. Ashgate, Aldershot, 63-74.
  • Watson, P. (1997) Civil Society and the Politics
    of Difference in Eastern Europe. In Scott, J.W.,
    C. Kaplan and D. Keats (eds.) Transitions,
    Environments, Translations. Feminisms in
    International Politics. Routledge, London and New
    York, 21-29.
  • Zdravomyslova, E. V. Voronkov (2002) The
    Informal Public in Soviet Society Double
    Morality at Work. Social Research 691, 49-69.