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Who needs civil society?

Who needs civil society? ‘Civil society’ has become a popular concept in both the analysis of the social bases of recent political change in Africa, and in external policy support for processes of liberal democratic political reform. In the latter case, civil society, as represented by a set of (largely urban) formal organisations and especially by NGOs with external links, is portrayed as the driving force behind and guarantee of democratisation and the containment of the state. Conceptually, however, ‘civil society’ proves to be diffuse, hard to define, empirically imprecise, and ideologically laden. Analytically it is vacuous, and concepts such as class or gender contribute far more to understanding recent political change than can ‘civil society’. Its popularity and continued employment rest on its ideological underpinning, notably on claims that civil society is necessarily distinct from the state, in opposition to the state, and the source of (liberal) democratic values and pressures. It is thus the proponents of liberal democratic reform, notably those external to African polities, that ‘need’ civil society. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Review of African Political Economy Taylor & Francis

Who needs civil society?

Review of African Political Economy , Volume 24 (73): 9 – Sep 1, 1997
9 pages

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References (13)

Publisher
Taylor & Francis
Copyright
Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN
1740-1720
eISSN
0305-6244
DOI
10.1080/03056249708704266
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

‘Civil society’ has become a popular concept in both the analysis of the social bases of recent political change in Africa, and in external policy support for processes of liberal democratic political reform. In the latter case, civil society, as represented by a set of (largely urban) formal organisations and especially by NGOs with external links, is portrayed as the driving force behind and guarantee of democratisation and the containment of the state. Conceptually, however, ‘civil society’ proves to be diffuse, hard to define, empirically imprecise, and ideologically laden. Analytically it is vacuous, and concepts such as class or gender contribute far more to understanding recent political change than can ‘civil society’. Its popularity and continued employment rest on its ideological underpinning, notably on claims that civil society is necessarily distinct from the state, in opposition to the state, and the source of (liberal) democratic values and pressures. It is thus the proponents of liberal democratic reform, notably those external to African polities, that ‘need’ civil society.

Journal

Review of African Political EconomyTaylor & Francis

Published: Sep 1, 1997

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