From Confrontation to Collaboration: Contemporary Discourse on the State-Civil Society Relational Models1 Dr.

Tanvir Anjum Abstract In the contemporary development discourse, the concept of civil society is as much popular as debated and contested by activists and development practitioners as well as scholars and academicians. Presently, there are multiple and often conflicting understandings of civil society, especially in relation to the state, which have brought to the fore a wide range of state-civil society relational models. The present paper is aimed at identifying the characteristic features of these models. The study is an attempt to explore the varied strands and patterns in the relationship between the state and civil society, which impact on the functions and nature of both the sectors. Civil society is considered to be one of three spheres that together constitute the triadic paradigm of social order, the other two spheres being the state (the upholder of legal values) and the market (the economy or exchange values). Since the state and the market are referred to as the first and the second sectors respectively, civil society is referred to as the ‘third’ or ‘independent’ sector. The concept of civil society has been employed to identify, locate and explain various social structures and institutions, which impact upon the relations between the state and society. Presently, non-government organizations or NGOs, also referred to as civil society organizations or CSOs, are identified as expressions of civil society. The term civil society has become a catchword in the contemporary discourse on development, liberalism and modernism. The theory and concept of civil society is as much popular as debated among activists and development practitioners as well as scholars and academicians. It has variously been used in diverse theoretical positions and political agendas. In the contemporary discourse, the conceptual construct of civil society is characterized by much theoretical ambiguity as well as complexity in its usage and application. There are multiple understandings of it, with difference in emphasis on its characteristics and nature, and hence no single model of it. Sometimes the concept of civil society is understood as a sphere of polity having an oppositional relationship with the state, and sometimes viewed in constructive and co-operational relationship with the state. It is also perceived as an intermediate institutional space, or a mediating sphere between an individual and a state, as well as a sphere completely autonomous from the state, neither having conflict nor collaboration or association with it. In addition, it is also envisioned as a sphere which counter-balances the state’s hegemony and

The author is Assistant Professor at Department of History, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad – Pakistan.

In contemporary times. for instance. and (iv) Mediational Model of Civil Society. (iii) Autonomous Model. which a state is ideally supposed to deliver. (ii) a normative philosophical concept and utopian ethical ideal guaranteeing good life. For this very reason. and a realm of civil solidarity.5 owing to its several forms and strands.2 For Wayne Hudson. The present paper is aimed at identifying some of the contested understandings of the concept of civil society by highlighting the characteristic features of the abovementioned state-civil society relational models. with changing meanings. a sector (‘third’ or non-government sector). the concept of civil society is relevant in analytical terms. actors and adversaries. a political slogan. which can broadly be classified under the following four heads: (i) Confrontational Model.3 The contemporary literature on the subject reveals that there is little common in various definitions and understandings of the concept of civil society. (ii) Collaborative/Associational Model. The study is an attempt to explore the varied strands and patterns in the relationship between the state and civil society. there are multiple conceptions of civil society in EuroAmerican intellectual tradition. as well as its ever fluctuating conceptual frontiers. the relationship of civil society with the market and the society at large is also being debated. and sometimes seen as a means of delivering services to people. cooperation and trust. a space for action in which social groups can exist and move. and from mere distinction to complete autonomy of civil society from the state is being contested. as it raises a wide array of research questions pertaining to the relationship of various social groups and institutions with the state and political authorities. Not only the state-civil society relationship ranging from opposition to collaboration. and (iii) an analytical tool or model to explain various socio-political phenomena.4 None the less. which impact on the functions and nature of both the sectors. currently civil society is being identified with a philosophical concept. a number of state-civil society relational models have been brought to the fore. The theory of civil society is said to have acquired ‘conceptual polymorphousness’. Keeping in view the multiple and often conflicting understandings and functions of civil society. norms. According to Adam Seligman. which are contested on a number of counts.From Confrontation to Collaboration domination. the concept of civil society is being used as: (i) a political slogan for criticizing various government policies at the hands of activists. it has been suggested that civil society cannot be seen as a static concept. in contemporary times. rather as a concept in flux. 94 . a set of institutions. Recent European and European-inspired literature on civil society offers its syncretic and contradictory typologies. despite its multiple understandings.

the political and academic discourse on civil society became more focused on the differentiation of civil society from the state. the Enlightenment era in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was characterized by the emergence of modern state system along with highly centralized and absolute monarchical rule. To him. civil society is also a counter-balancing mechanism vis-à-vis the state. Vaclav Havel. Not only this. the confrontational model of civil society views it in opposition to the state. As a response and reaction to the political developments of the times. In view of Ernest Gellner. The state-civil society dichotomy is much more pronounced in the writings of continental thinkers than Anglo-American scholars. in the neo-conservative tradition. the undercurrent of the modern idea of civil society is the accent on the separation between the state and civil society. Liberal European political thinkers have assigned polar positions to the state and civil society. the writings of Montesquieu and Kant projected civil society as a sphere meant to contain and check the arbitrary powers of monarchical rulers. the concept of civil society emerged as a critique to absolutism or monarchy. it was a vision of society not simply independent of the state but opposed to it. According to the confrontational model.7 In short. civil society is understood in opposition to the state.’8 This is because civil society is perceived as a sphere of social order that provides defense against the atomization of society by the state.6 In fact. for some the state-civil society dichotomy is characterized by opposition and contradiction between the two. the concept of civil society is defined through its opposition to the state in the entire liberal tradition of European political philosophy. Continuing the intellectual traditions of the Enlightenment era. four broad state-civil society relational models can be identified in the contemporary discourse.Journal of Political Studies State-Civil Society Relational Models As pointed out above. In particular. civil society represents ‘the domain of anti-politics. a dissident socialist intellectual and political activist. In other words. and seen as a depoliticized sphere of market activity and other activities including those relating to religion and family. Civil society prevents a state from dominating and 95 . The characteristic features of these models are discussed hereunder: 1. which counter-balance the state but do not prevent the state from fulfilling its role of keeper of the peace and arbitrator between major interests. In fact. and therefore the characteristic to be ‘nonstate’ is deemed as the most crucial marker of a civil society. Confrontational Model of Civil Society As earlier discussed. from 1970s onwards. sees the relationship between the state and civil society as oppositional and contradictory. civil society is a set of diverse non-governmental institutions. for instance.

contends that civil society exists in a minimal sense where there are free associations which are not under state tutelage and in a stronger sense ‘only where society as a whole can structure itself and co-ordinate its actions through such associations that are free of state tutelage’. Gordon White. Such a position has been taken by Robert Hefner.11 In a similar manner. for instance. Taylor.14 Therefore.18 These civil society theorists view the autonomy of civil society from the state as a defining characteristic of civil society. and consider it as an autonomous sphere independent of control by political institutions.10 The confrontational model of civil society which sees it as an expression of societal self-organization in opposition to the state is said to have a negative view of civil society.12 2. theorists have attempted to focus more on its positive functions. in which it is not defined negatively. as he defines it as a ‘complex balance of consensus and conflict’. this analytical bias against the state is associated with an anti-statist ideological agenda. Moreover. this dichotomous view obscures the dialectics of their relationship as it focuses on separateness. For them. Countering this negative view. for instance.16 David Anderson. but positively in the context of the ideas and practices through which cooperation and trust are established in social life’. many of the contemporary civil society theorists have avoided taking such a dichotomous view of state and civil society. in opposition to the state. and instead highlighted the distinction between them.15 Keith Tester. which is the ability of people to regulate their affairs without interference from the state. and not necessarily in conflict and opposition to it. Others who support the autonomous model of civil society include Charles Taylor. rather than on interrelatedness. brings out the positive characteristics of civil society.9 Some other theorists such as Şerif Mardin also perceive civil society as ‘a set of equilibrating social mechanisms’. John Hall.22 96 . Larry Diamond.13 To Björn Beckman. Neera Chandhoke and Judith Tendler contend that the two sectors cannot be delinked as separate and completely exclusive spheres at conceptual level.20 Hall considers ‘societal self-organization’ as the most important characteristic of civil society. the state is the basis of the modern conception of civil society. John A. Hann and Dunn also argue for ‘a more inclusive usage of civil society. Autonomous Model of Civil Society The confrontational model of civil society is based on the assumption of inveterate opposition between the civil society and the state. Hall and He Baogang. civil society is merely distinct from the state.17 and Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato.19 Taylor’s view is also shared by other civil society theorists and scholars such as Larry Diamond and Gordon White.21 Baogang also assumes autonomy from the state to be a necessary condition for the existence of civil society. This dichotomous view of civil society vs.From Confrontation to Collaboration atomising the society. but it has been challenged by many theorists.

and the autonomy of civil society organizations is variable or changeable. in recent years the role of civil society has been viewed as expanding beyond confrontation with the state.28 As a result. Beckman argues that the boundaries between state and civil society may get blurred in practice. the collaborative or associational model of civil society is increasingly being adopted by NGOs and CSOs around the world. the collaborative model is considered to be better than the confrontational model. Theoretically.25 The autonomous model of civil society is considered to be in line with the neotraditionalist and communitarian view of civil society. the role of community has been stressed in the autonomous model of civil society. While urging for broadening the concept of civil society.23 unlike the neo-conservative paradigm wherein civil society is seen as a depoliticized sphere. to financial support of the latter to the former with regulatory mechanisms. in practice. the theoretical position of civil society’s autonomy is not without conceptual problems. In some cases. in addition to autonomy in relation to the state. who observes that the assumed neatly drawn boundary between the government and non-government sectors is quite blurred in actual. the state in Asia has often played a pivotal role in establishing civil society. Therefore. civil society may also be independent of other interest groups.29 Empirical evidence suggests that in contrast to most of Europe. Collaborative/Associational Model of Civil Society At a theoretical level. have come up. which have been pointed out by critics. sometimes the state itself concedes space to civil society groups in order to stay in power and pursue its own goals. However. wherein they both collaborate with each other to overcome problems like poverty.30 Though the state has the power to contain civil society.Journal of Political Studies This view of civil society as an autonomous sphere from the state has been shared by the voluntary social movements paradigm.24 A similar argument is forwarded by Tendler. Deemphasizing the political dimension of civil society in conceptual terms.26 It suggests that civil society is based on a shared set of values which are embedded in public and civic institutions within a pluralistic framework. Moreover. the state-civil society collaboration is also in line with the neo-conservative paradigm wherein civil society is understood as a depoliticized sphere.27 In addition. and collaborative models of state and civil society. A number of models and approaches to it have developed ranging from complementary partnership with considerable degree of autonomy of civil society organizations from government.31 Many empirical studies suggest that 97 . rather seen as a preferred model so that civil society could survive and be able to carry out its function. the collaborative model of civil society is more in line with the welfare state view of civil society. 3. which does not pose challenge to the state. which is characterized by the collective rights and autonomy of communities. civil society and the governments in many countries have evolved a broad range of ways to collaborate and complement each other’s activities. but here this sphere is conceptualized as a politicized arena.

38 As mentioned earlier. in which deliberation and association take place without constraint and coercion’.35 Many civil society scholars and theorists advocate the meditational model of civil society. social movements.39 while Cohen and Arato define it as a sphere of associations (especially voluntary ones). and forms of public communications that ‘mediate between economy. but to advance groups interests or the common good. For instance. it is this characteristic feature of civil society that enables it to perform a meditational function.36 According to İlkay Sunar.37 Isagani R. civil society can exert a transformative power in politics. for instance. C. Therefore. Mediational Model of Civil Society Transcending the state-civil society dualism implicit in the debate on civil society. which acts as a buffer between the state and citizen. As pointed out above. The studies by P. C. They are building blocks of sense of belonging and develop solidarity with others’.34 4. Cohen and Arato have stressed on the autonomy of civil society from the state. cooperation and compromise with the state.33 In a similar manner.40 It is important to note that the meditational model of civil society assumes civil society to be distinct both from the state and society. and suggest that despite these ties. Anderson. who identifies voluntary organizations with civil society. Huang and H. it may also be a sphere of interaction.32 The studies by Robert Weller and Hsin-huang Michael Hsiao reveal the complex forms of interlocking of civil society with different forms of state power. Chamberlain on civil society in China. Augustus R.From Confrontation to Collaboration civil society is not necessarily a realm in opposition to the state. some theorists conceive of it as a mediating sphere between the state and society or an intermediate institutional space between them. Norton considers civil society as a mediating structure between the society and state. He views the involvement of public authorities as a source of empowering civil society and strengthening its autonomous agency. reveals the complex and at times complementary relationship between the state and civil society in premodern Muslim polities since there existed the historical tradition of the involvement of public authorities in philanthropy. civil society is the ‘intermediate domain between the state and the individual. civil society is understood as an intermediate institutional space between private and public. B. prove this point. state and society’. Serrano. In voluntary social movements’ paradigm. the distinction of civil society from the state has been asserted in both the 98 . Said Amir Arjomand’s study on the institution of charitable trusts as the mode of agency of civil society in premodern Persia. To them. They mediate between the private citizens on the one hand and state and corporate structure on the other. organizations and movements freely formed by citizens not for profit. Anderson refers to the ‘mediating institutions’ of civil society. defines them as ‘groups.

The contemporary discourse on civil society not only reveals the shifting emphasis on the varied characteristics and functions of civil society. In other words. None the less. four state-civil society relational models can be discerned. collaborative/associational.Journal of Political Studies confrontational and autonomous models of civil society. it may be argued that civil society is not something apart or completely distinct from society. namely the confrontational. it also betrays the multiple understandings of civil society in relation to the state. The study proves that the varied strands and patterns in the relationship between the state and civil society impact on the functions and nature of both the sectors. autonomous and mediational models of civil society. it is comprised of politically conscious sections of a society which organize and regulate themselves in order to contain and resist the high-handedness of the state. In the light of these contested understandings. 99 . Civil society may be seen as something internal to society. The distinction between civil society and the society at large which is implicit in the meditational model distinguishes it from other models.

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