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Civil Society Author(s): Neera Chandhoke Source: Development in Practice, Vol. 17, No. 4/5 (Aug., 2007), pp. 607-614 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Oxfam GB Stable URL: . Accessed: 11/07/2013 10:50
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The firstaspect was the sustained demand forpolitical rights. That the concept of civil society could suit such a variety of differentpolitical projects is cause for some alarm. in the face of mass protests. dissemination of information through informal networks. the concept of civil society came to signify a set of social and political of the concept and the collapse of dictatorial states made civil society attractive to a variety of political agents pursuing differentagendas: expanding themarket at the expense of the state. 11 Jul 2013 10:50:24 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . that of authoritarian states. August 2007 |\ croup Tayior&Frane* Civil society Neera Chandhoke The idea of civil society has proved very elusive. In the context of autocratic states.120. and the formation of associational life through the setting up of reading clubs and discussion forums. undermining confidence in accepted modes of representation such as political parties. like the proverbial house of cards. for itmight well mean that civil society has come tomean everything to everyone remotely interested in it. In retrospect. through revolutionary smashing transforming the state. demonstrations.140 on Thu. SE Asia Introduction The concept of civil society was rediscovered and accorded pre-eminence in political practices in a very definite political context: in Stalinist states inEastern and Central Europe. escaping conceptual grasps and evading sure footed negotiation of the concept itself Resurrected in a very definite historical setting. The net effect of mobilisation in civil society is well known: some very powerful states collapsed. the concept quickly acquired a subversive edge. where military regimes had managed to survive by employment of the same methods. The close connection with the re-emergence domain of the state and that of accepted modes of politics. which had denied their citizens' basic rights. and ISSN 0961-4524 Print/ISSN DOI: 1364-9213 Online 4-50607-8 ? 2007 Oxfam GB 607 Routledge Publishing 10. from freedom of expression to freedom to form associations. The second aspect was signified by complete disenchantment with vocabularies that spoke of over state or the means.and more particularly civil rights: the right to freedom of all kinds. Volume 17.1080/09614520701469658 This content downloaded from 14. and inLatin America. Numbers 4-5. with political parties that preferred to follow the impulse to power rather than representing their constituencies. power taking state. and in general shrinking the practices that sought to engage with state power. protest marches.139. transiting from mass politics to single-issue and localised campaigns. Born into a world disenchanted with overbearing states. Civil Society.Development in Practice. Central and Eastern Europe and CIS. Itwas in civil society that individuals and groups set out to challenge unresponsive and authoritarian states through peaceful and non-violent methods: strikes. Key Words: Aid. two aspects of the argument on civil society appear tremendously significant.

the antonym of authoritarianism.140 on Thu.120. in the wake of the post-Washington Consensus forged by the World Bank. such what is euphemisti and of consists Civil voluntary agencies. and a number of NGOs emerged to perform the many tasks heaped upon the shoulders of civil society. the 'third termed proponents of the tragedy cally civil demanded had authoritarian society. a 'hurrah word'. economic. its dark areas. Volume 17. However. journalists. Thirdly. civil society sphere of party politics. has the befallen the that Witness sector'. unresponsive. engaged with. the very idea that civil society can be protected from the reach of . self-help. the rule the state is astounding. There was a time.Neera Chandhoke with trade unions which had become bureaucratic and unrepresentative. and academics. The idea that civil society can provide an alternative to the state and to themarket helps to organis funding organisations to bypass the 'ThirdWorld' state and disburse aid directly World state' has been compromised by ations in civil society. in other words. is on everyone's lips government officials.right. In the process. logic and presented to us meaning. logic by politics. August 2007 This content downloaded from 14. In other words. when civil society was an 'essentially contested' concept. The belief thatcivil society can give us an alternative both to the state 608 Development inPractice.formulations. the close connection between the 'civil society' argument and thedemise of authoritarian regimes came to be perceived bymany multilateral and donor agencies as a sure recipe for democracy. and goodwill. simply because rival and often acrimonious interpretations. Firstly. writers. Secondly. as a sphere of solidarity. Today it has become a consensual concept. stripped of its ambiguities. and concerned more with thepursuit of power thanwith representation of their constituencies led scholars and activists to look to other agents in civil society to deepen democracy. The sovereignty of the 'Third this fact alone. Closely allied as theyare to the agendas ofthe donor agencies. which regulates thepublic sphere and guarantees therights of its inhabitants are insti tutionalised by the state. the generalised discontent thatpolitical parties and trade unions as agents of representation had become bureau cratic. and all perspectives in between. Numbers 4-5. civil society came to be interpretedas an alternative to the formal tiresomely unanimous acclaim. In the process. and theorisations jostled with each other to impartmeaning to the concept. what regimes concept: people struggling against as an to the formal alternative was of In the NGOs! instead process being presented they got driven also the market and of state the the driven of by the power. forpolitical theorists. But what exactly is it?1 From contested concept to consensual 'hurrahword' There was a timewhen civil societywas interesting. 11 Jul 2013 10:50:24 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . sphere over its and contestations from debates all has been abstracted the of concept profit. Cited as a solution to social. the state was brought 'back in': itwas expected that the state would share its functions with civil-society organisations.139. and its oppressions. That is why civil society. only society political struggles. civil society is claimed by every part of the ideological spectrum as its own.for instance. The reasons for thisflatteningout are the following. and a matter of has been flattened out. and rendered accountable through intentional and engaged citizen action. when the essential conditions of civil society of law. not to mention the millions of people across the globe who find it an inspiration in their struggles for a better world. and political dilemmas by politicians and thinkers from left. contemporary versions of civil as social movements or society have drastically emptied the sphere of any other agency. the concept of civil society highlighted one basic precondition of democracy: state power has to be monitored. funding agencies.even riveting. most momentous victories against authoritarian It is clear thatcivil societies have won their as states. the state came to be pluralised.

the InternationalMonetary Fund. people found the lack of civil and political liberties. civil society limits the state. concept that has ceased to have any meaning. Amid all this acclaim. the . This content downloaded from 14. least of Tracing the emergence of 'civilsociety' The concept of civil society swept intoprominence in the 1980s for reasons thatare by now well known. the United World Bank. Intellectuals in Eastern Europe began to realise that the two options that had been historically available to people struggling to emancipate themselves from unbearable political situations were no longer accessible to them. For de Tocqueville (1835. August 2007 609 European states.139.may justifiably give us cause for thought. but the logic of one actually constitutes the other. civil Hegel (1821). If civil society is hailed by almost everyone. lending agencies.Civil society and to the market is Utopian at best and dangerous at worst. Some remedy had to be found. the moment that we conveniently forget that the concept has always been problematic for political theory. the two have been uncoupled.The firstoption was reform of state power from above.140 on Thu. watered-down questions about the sphere have almost always outstripped the answers to these questions. namely that the (former) Soviet Union would not hesitate to intervene in the affairs of Eastern Reeling under obdurate state power and imperious bureaucracies. The ubiquity of a concept. and presumably much profit. 1840). if the concept of civil society can be used by groups of every ideological stripe and hue with equal dexterity Anxious with all for those who are supposed to benefit from it.flattened out. and forGramsci (1929-1935). The only option that presented itself as credible in this Development inPractice. civil society is readily and smoothly presented as an answer to themalaise of the contemporary world. for it simplymesses up our com prehension of what the sphere is about. we can conclude somewhat regretfully. NGOs. and bor Nations. for civil society is society is the source of the power of the state. civil society must surely prove advantageous for all. the ideal elixir to counter the rowing agencies to states both chauvinistic and democratic ills of the contemporary world. Today. jaded avatar of civil society. To put itbluntly. there must be something wrong. Not only are the state and civil society a precondition each for theother. civil society is a necessary stage in the formation of the state. wherever and whenever the need arose. it must have lost both shape and content. 11 Jul 2013 10:50:24 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . may prove ultimately tobe its undoing.120. however. for Marx. Numbers 4-5. Nowhere in the history of civil society has itbeen conceptualised as an alternative to or as independent of the state. Why? Because it has ceased to mean anything? Because it has been reduced to a project that Western funding agencies seek for their own reasons to promote in other parts of theworld? Because it has been watered down? Or because this understanding of the concept excludes much more than it includes? The emergence on our theoretical horizon of a truncated. For if it comes on to everyone's lips with a fair amount of readiness. stripped of all contradictions and tensions. social movements. state monopoly over economic and social transactions. thisuncoupling. ritual invocations of civil society as a panacea for the ills of themodern world simply sound insipid and dreary. Today. Both had been ruled out by theBrezhnev doctrine. the space where the state constructs its hegemony in alliance with the dominant classes. The second was thatof revolution frombelow. from trade unions. and absence of participative citizenship or representativeness both claustrophobic and intolerable. Volume 17. Whatever the reason for we thinkof civil society as a welcome alternative to the state.Where in all of this are the grey areas of civil society thatHegel spoke of?Where are the exploitations and the oppressions of civil society that Marx passionately castigated? Where is the state-inspired Gramsci unearthed so brilliantly and perceptively? What we are left project of hegemony that is a one-dimensional.

then. Forged as itwas in thehistorical context of Eastern Europe.First. Third. right expression right especially . 610 Development inPractice. was The end of politics as social transformation The argument developed rapidly into a polemical slogan thatcounter-posed the sphere of volun an taryand purposive collective action to dictatorial state power. itannounced thedetermination of people who had been banished from the political arena to insert themselves into the political discourse on theirown terms. even as these very people turned theirback on the state. organised into groups. and accountability should be codified in order to limit the power of the state over all areas of social life. groups good thing of life. which had been disastrously emptied out by regimes intent on monopolising the nooks and crannies of social and political life.120. concerned with the form and content of power.140 on Thu.the demand for civil liberties. It offered the promise that a rather tormenting deficit in the lives of people would be filled up by warm and personalised social interaction. the call to civil society served to repopulate the public sphere. Even as a purportedly self-limiting social revolution transformed itself into a highly charged was added to the civil-society argument. associate.The invocation to civil society conveyed a statement of intent: thatordinary people have the capability to fashion their own lives. The Eastern Europeans called this free zone. for it provided a unions. Volume 17. In 1989. political accountability Europeans were practically re-enacting the bourgeois revolution thathad taken place inEngland in the seventeenth century against absolutist state power. into the political public. the argument sought to institutionalise state-society relationships. peopled by social associations. remorseless.First. Numbers 4-5. for zone state on a out within free concentrated that had power existing carving initially activity was and unorganised.was a in trade self-education itself. may well have authored the civil-society script for and inEastern Europe in the 1980s. albeit one that was haphazard. Matters did not rest here. the quintessential liberal thinker. Second. and characterised by mutual solidarity. thought. even as it asserted that procedures such as the rule of law. self-help and self-management organisations. ifwe look closely at the details of the argument state limited to of rule the and to of freedom the law. In the process. a fourth dimension on the state. had dramatically transformed itself its back turned had which initially public. the historical pairing of state and civil society uncoupled.Neera Chandhoke context was to carve out a 'free zone' within the existing system. 11 Jul 2013 10:50:24 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . the argument asserted that the nurturing of reading clubs. to develop into a powerful political movement. discussion self-help and solidarity through thick and overlapping associations . In retrospect. Theorised as a metaphorical space between the household and the state. The civil political revolution.139. we were towitness the awesome spectacle of somany powerful states in Eastern Europe literally collapsing before agitating and agitated crowds assembled in the streets. August 2007 This content downloaded from 14. The 'civil' in 'civil outside society' no longer signified non-political. and desolate political spaces. itmeant that people inhabiting the sphere the state had theright to debate about the nature of the state and the politics that it pursued. three features ofthe civil-society argument stand out as significant. 'civil society'. two aspects of the civil-society argument in Eastern Europe give us cause for . spontaneous. JohnLocke. societies. state to to the atomism individual and the counterpoint both Civil society emerged in Eastern Europe as the site where people. could make and pursue democratic projects of all kinds in freedom from bureaucratic state power. The slogan of civil society naturally appeared attractive to people who for long had inhabited politically is clear that the Eastern of the market and the freeing power.Here people could associate and express their sentiments without fear amid warm networks of solidarity. institutionalisation of political and civil rights.

or indeed thewillingness. Since the late 1960s. It was this sentiment thatwas hijacked by donor agencies. of the state to be respon sive to the needs of the people. August 2007 611 society became noisy.whether absolutist or socialist .139. vibrant. This content downloaded from 14. (b) emphasise the legitimate rights of a people in a democracy to make demands on the state. had simply turned their backs on the very same masses militant struggles against state power had been launched by the Naxalite movement.140 on Thu. such as the anti-caste movement. Secondly. and (d) stress the importance of an Development inPractice. It is not surprising that scholars and political commentators wedded to bourgeois liberalism hastened in the aftermath of the velvet revolutions to proclaim an end to ideology and an end to history. Numbers 4-5. for reasons that were relatively independent of the 'end of ideology' thesis.we can expect the eruption of discontent against exclusions from structuresof citizenship and represen tation. civil society replaced revolution as the prime locus of passions and imagin ations. the Eastern Europeans. These had largely to do with the failure of the state. was to have a powerful influence on theway that scholars and activists conceptualised the human condition in other parts of theworld. Scholars in India were to speak of corrupt bureauc racies and of even more amoral and of post-independence states. to deliver a minimum standard of life to itspeople. proclaimed a final end to the revolutionary imagination. who had put them there in the firstplace. consolidating theirpower in the interstices problems. (c) insist on state accountability. the message conveyed by the experience of Eastern Europe was to validate wherever and whenever precisely what Antonio Gramsci had conceptualised in the 1930s: that states . a vocabulary. and impervious to the fact that state-led development had failed miserably. The early 1970s saw the formation and consolidation of a number of social movements challenging the agenda of the state. fashioned in thehistorical context of Eastern Europe. two of themost important movements in contemporary India in the 1980s . its insistence on thebankruptcy of the socialist tradition. Itwas to prove extraordinarily influential.appeared as dominant actors on the political scene. The public sphere of India's civil Still. It is not as if authoritarian state policies had not been resisted earlier. From the 1980s onwards. Volume 17.The reasons had partly to do with the bourgeois liberal acclaim of the end of ideology.C/vi7 society that because people in Eastern Europe were deprived of civil rights. Powerful bureaucracies and political elites. the farmers' movement.deny their people political and civil rights. These scholars were to castigate the bankruptcy of the political vision. what was needed was a concept. and creative. and an agenda thatwould (a) locate these struggles. which sought to posit the construction or expansion of civil society as the answer to all kinds of historically specific The civil-society argument was also enthusiastically embraced by activists and scholars.Gramsci's dictum that states thatdo not possess civil societies aremore vulnerable than those thatdo possess themwas to prove more than prescient in this case. power-hungry political leaders. especially in developing countries. untidy. and its emphasis on the viability of liberal democracy as the sole option for politics. The tragedy here was The rise of the civil-society argument indevelopment The civil-society argument. After the liftingof the Emergency in 1977. 11 Jul 2013 10:50:24 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .the civil libertiesmovement and the environ mental movement . and express a lack of confidence in the capacity.120. theywere to bemoan the loss of hope. who were completely the women's movement. The attraction of civil society in such instances had less to do with the intrinsic value of the concept and more to do with its ideological association with the end of socialist societies. and because the civil society argument concentrated on resuscitating those rights. through and by the civil-society argument. The argument effectively killed off the idea of politics as social transformation.

In the USA. is were struggling to consolidate arguably an alien import. expand and even transformthe sphere of civil society. we may be forced to accept that there is a deep and perhaps irresolvable tension between the acknowl struggle. contestation. once civil not want it. as the product of specific historical processes in England and France. Yet social movements can. Itwas in themidst of disenchantment with the overreach of the state . move autonomous site where people could engage in democratic projects for their own sake. who were to conceptualise civil society in the first instance. it is obvious.The state could no longer be relied upon. People looked for an alternative to state-led projects and state-inspired developments. people found that they really did The dismantling of state institutions and the opening out of markets has inevitably led to uncompromising austerity. aware that civil were the incivilities of troublesome many perfectly sphere.that the concept of civil society took hold of the imaginations of both the left and the right. Robert Putnam (1994. despite having exercised untrammelled power for decades. The rolling back of the state from any kind of responsibility for the people has left those who cannot fend for themselves at themercy of those who are in a position to profit from new arrangements. civic virtue among the inhabitants of civil society.proved peculiarly apt for societies that Civil society as a project The moment we perceive civil society from the vantage point ofmarginalised groups. promised the rebuilding of both political activism and civic virtue. The wave of protestmovements thatovertook Africa in the early 1990s. the language of civil society. Theorists as eminent as Adam Smith (1776) and saw it as a Georg Hegel (1821). Oddly enough. discrimination against ethnic minorities.120. edged virtues of the sphere and its actual functioning.139. Far from being a given. order to insert a word of caution into the celebratory notes on civil society: for. It promised an exit from bureaucratic inefficiency and political indifference. which. Numbers 4-5.Neera Chandhoke ments thatwere popularly hailed as the second liberation of the continent. 612 Development inPractice. liberal democracy was not doing too well in the western part of the continent. as the Eastern European case had shown.massive unemployment. and affirmation. through Civil society is a project in another sense. A vibrant and politicised civil society. even as state-dominated strategies had colonised what Habermas (1987) felicitously theorists complained about the disappearance of termed the 'life world'. ithad failed miserably.140 on Thu. They can do thisby demanding that civil society deliver what it promises in theory: freedom from domination. society had been resurrected in this context. 11 Jul 2013 10:50:24 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . If socialism had failed in the eastern part of Europe. freedom to achieve self-realisation.inAfrica as well as Asia . and resultant ethnic explosions. People in this part of theworld. were accordingly conceptualised as civil society versus the state. 2000) remonstrated about the lack of associational life. fledgling democracies. Civil societies had been rendered passive and quiescent. They deeply without deliberate itself could the neither was for and of. The inhabitants ofWestern European societies were tomake roughly the same complaint: that of the unresponsiveness of the state and the indifference of the bureaucracy. have been as quickly disenchanted with civil society as they had been enchanted by the invocation of the concept. civil society is a project whereby individuals can realise their self through engagement. Volume 17. and Francis Fukuyama (1995) complained about the absence of what he called 'trust'. sphere reproduce capable society We only need to look at post-'velvet revolution' Eastern Europe in intervention to tame it. This vocabulary and this concept were found in civil society. freedom to assert selfhood. August 2007 This content downloaded from 14.

can be left to fend for itself. In this article. It is not something that. and vice versa.Civil societies are what their inhabitantsmake of them. in order to find a voice. and make a forcible entry into the sphere. But for this. nor is it an institution. but because it is a site where various groups can engage with each other in projects of all kinds. I suggest that it is vital to disentangle normative expectations from the analysis of actually existing civil societies. or even a civil society that is inde pendent of the state. or of the tribalswho are struggling for freedom.This is not because it is a precondition for democracy. There is nothing in civil society that automatically ensures the victory of democratic projects. dominant find a space in civil society.we have to accept that it is not enough that therebe a civil society. Development agendas. and civil society finds a place for them. and the general incivility ofmuch of civil society. Volume 17. civil society too is a contested site. because they are completely indifferentto the notion of power. 11 Jul 2013 10:50:24 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . The irony is that even though most countries of the developing world are primarily rural. The de-linking of the state and civil society has greatly impoverished our understanding of both concepts. the latter are banished to the dark periphery of the sphere. Its absence would mean the absence of democracy. Numbers 4-5. and of the knows that civil society can be conceptualised only in relation to the state. it is the urban middle-class agenda that is best secured by the invocation of civil society. They can easily become hostages to formal democracy at best. themany banish ments of civil society. to break down the gates. it remains a valuable term. By asserting civil society. Those theoristswho waxed eloquent on the need for people to connect were and marginal languages.139. Beyond normativity Like other domains of collective interaction. remain unrepresented either in the theory or in the practice of civil society.Civil society freedom that is necessary for democratic engagement. and social power. It is critical to go beyond the buzzword that 'civil society' has become if it is to regain the vitality that it once had as an essentially contested concept. The agenda of oppressed and marginal peasants. material. Such formulations obfuscate the conflictwithin. others possess nothing. and undemocratic trends at worst. Some groups possess overlapping political. not even access to the means of life. and themany oppressions. and the inspiration to battle for democracy. the domain came to be increasingly conceptualised without reference to the state. marginal groups may well have to storm the ramparts of civil society. In the heady days when theorists brought 'Civil Society Back In'. or 'democratisation' as political conditionalities would have it. Ifwe want to see what kind of civil society is feasible and possible for our historical our understanding of this sphere.once constructed. That is why dreams of a democratic civil society are also a project of civil society. The former to stray away from the shadowy peripheries of actually existing civil societies and underplay the ambiguous relationship of this sphere with democracy. unevenly shared conceptual understanding. All that civil society does is to provide actors with the values. Taking a long hard look within civil society itself focuses our attention on power equations of all kinds: on material deprivation. Therefore.140 on Thu. then we cannot allow our political passions and normative concerns to obfuscate inPractice. symbolic. August 2007 613 This content downloaded from 14. people demand that regimes recognise the competence of the political public to chart out a dis course on the content and the limits of what is politically desirable and democratically per missible. themany incivilities.120. and to see what civil society actually does or does not do for differentpeople who inhabit the sphere. the space. Now any self-respecting scholar Yet for all the hubris associated with civil society.

University Robert D.Neera Chandhoke Note 1. Oxford University of Civil Society. York. Numbers 4-5. (2000) Putnam. <neera. NY.T. of the Western World. University recent works Her most include The Conceits of Civil Grass-Roots Society (2003). Oxford: Press.) Great Alone: and The Collapse Y. inRobert Smith. This article draws substantially on Chandhoke (2003). Action. References Chandhoke. and Nanetti Revival of American Making Community.140 on Thu. Bowling New York. Hoare and eds. Press. Functionalist Oxford (1987) Theory of Communicative Boston: Beacon Press. French Revolution (trans. Hegel. Fukuyama. NY: Simon & Schuster. The Post-Colonial World and Understanding Politics and Social (1999)> Science Faculty of Arts Economics University 614 Development inPractice. 11 Jul 2013 10:50:24 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Countries University of Delhi. Gramsci (Q. NJ: Princeton University Chicago. Antonio (1971) [1929-1935] SelectionsfromPrison Notebooks ofA. Work: Raffaelle (1994) Press. G. The author Neera Chandhoke Research is Professor Centre. Georg Wilhelm Fredrik (1942) [1821] The Philosophy of Right (trans. Robert Putnam. Volume 17.Adam (1952) [1776]An Inquiry into the Maynard Books Italy. Vol. August 2007 This content downloaded from 14. Transformation entitled 'Conflict of the research first the of the is project (1995). phase currently writing up findings School of ofthe London in India' in partnership with the Crisis States Programme and Institutional Change She and Political Delhi Science. New Delhi: The Social Virtues and Creation New York. Smith Neera Francis (2003) (1995) The Conceits Trust: Press.N. Doubleday Press. Alexis de (1955) [1835 and 1840] The Old Regime and the City. of Political Science. NY: of Prosperity. Beyond Secularism: The Rights of Religious Minorities (1999). IL: William Benton.chandhoke@gmail. Princeton.139. Civic Traditions Hutchin Garden with Robert Leonardi in Modern (ed. Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Habermas.). Gilbert). New Jiirgen Reason. 110 007. Free Gramsci. and State and Civil Society: Explorations inPolitical Theory (1995). of Political details: Department India. NY: International Publishers. Contact of Delhi. and the edited volumesMapping Histories (2000). 2. Democracy Nature and Causes oftheWealth ofNations.Stuart Tocqueville. and Director of the Developing of Delhi.M Knox).