Re-conceptualizing Civil Society: Towards a Radical Understanding

Bunyan, Paul (2013) Re-conceptualizing Civil Society: Towards a Radical Understanding. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations. ISSN 0957-8765 DOI

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The article examines problematic aspects of contemporary theoretical thinking about civil society within a Western liberal democratic context. The impact of neo-liberalism upon narratives of civil society, the assumption that civility resides more conspicuously within the world of associational life, and the tendency to conflate ‘civil society’ with the ‘third sector’ are areas critically discussed. Such conceptual incongruities, it is argued, help to consolidate neo-liberal consensus-based notions of social and political change, embodied in concepts such as ‘partnership’, ‘social capital’ and the ‘Big Society’, obscuring the path to a more radical theoretical understanding of civil society. In the second part of the article an alternative model of civil society is proposed. Supporting Evers premise that “every attempt to narrow down civil society to the third sector seriously impoverishes the very concept of civil society” (Evers, Voluntary Sector Review, 1:116, 2010), it is argued that civil society is best understood as a normative political concept, as being contingent in nature and distinct from the third sector.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Civil society Neo-liberalism Civility Public sphere Third Sector
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Sociology
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2013 16:25

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