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civil society


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


A term which in contemporary discussion is generally used to mean a social sphere of freedom, voluntary association, and plurality of human relationships, identities, differences, and values as contrasted with the coercive political power of state and government (Keane, 1988b). Several social and political factors help to explain the current popularity of this idea: the rise of autonomous social movements (for example, peace and environmentalist movements, liberation movements of women, gays, and black people); the conspicuous failures of Western social-democratic parties and governments over the last 20 years; and the experience of political dictatorship and state oppression under the former Soviet and Eastern European regimes, the growth of opposition movements (for example, Solidarity in Poland), the overthrow/ collapse of those regimes, and the fragmentation of many of the states which they governed. Flowing from such experiences, the argument has been developed both in the West and in Eastern Europe that strengthening the associations, movements, and institutions of civil society is fundamental to the successful pursuit of increased freedom, equality, and democracy at the level of both society and the state ( Keane, 1988a ). This usage of “civil society” partly derives from the revival of the term earlier this century by GRAMSCI. However, there is a vital difference. For Gramsci ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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