IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Civil Society

I am trained as a political scientist (I guess it shows from time to time 🙂 ), and I try not to be too pedantic in my postings here.  However, there are some ideas from academia that are useful (really!) 🙂 .  One is civil society .   The Wikster’s definition is not bad:  “Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values.”  As that article goes on to point out:

“In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.”

The argument is often made that the stability of real democracy depends on a certain separation and independence of civil society from the institutions of the state.  Otherwise, there may be a tendency for democracy to slide into authoritarianism (at least from time to time).  Thailand is sometimes mentioned as an example of the latter trend, though I do not know enough about that country to say whether I think this is a fair assessment.

The importance of civil society for peace, and particularly for peace agreements, is clear.  As explained on the Kroc Institute web site:

“Many peace processes involve only the main warring parties. Yet research suggests that peace is more likely to prevail when the peace process is open to a broad spectrum of civil society actors, including political parties, religious groups, and women’s groups.”

This seems very reasonable, if you think about it.  Longer term peace depends on a “culture of peace”, and from where does this culture of peace emerge and find a home?  Seems to me it has to permeate civil society if it is to take root.

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March 26, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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