Re-conceptualizing Civil Society: Towards a Radical Understanding

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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.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalVOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2013


    • Civil society Neo-liberalism Civility Public sphere Third Sector


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