Recovering the concepts of peace and civility
The term ‘civil society’ seems to have lost the civilising connotations of ancient and Enlightenment meanings. It tends to be defined as a ‘third sector’, between the market and the state, and is often subsumed into emerging globalising concepts like ‘governance’. Increasingly, it is being judged by criteria of efficiency and competitiveness that match the measures of success in business. And it is often considered desirable to bring civil society into partnership with the state, although it is not clear whether this will help to ‘civilise’ the state, or whether civil society will be co-opted by governmental policies and decisions that are far from being ‘civilised’.
Top-down views of the functions of civil society include three broad perspectives that have become prominent in recent years. First, NGOs have become part of new public management and mixed ‘economies of welfare’ that involve public and private providers. New public management approaches see NGOs as closely linked to welfare state reform or welfare state alternatives. Second, civil society is seen as central to ‘civil society-social capital’ approaches, specifically the neo-Tocquevillian emphasis on the nexus between social capital and participation in voluntary associations of many kinds. Third, from a wider social accountability perspective, civil society is an instrument for achieving greater transparency, heightened accountability and improved governance of public institutions. The ‘other genealogy’ of civil society, that which describes its functions in terms of counter-hegemony and contestation (Howell and Pearce 2002: 31-38; Kaldor 2003), is left firmly out of the picture.
Government reform and civil society: the risk of instrumentalisation
Not all encounters between civil society and the state are dramatic tales of miraculous victory or bloody defeat. Global civil society also faces more conventional risks, such as being instrumentalised by governments and international organisations. For example, heads of state at the Sixth Global Forum in Reinventing Government, held in Seoul, 23–27 May 2005, and attended by several thousand representatives from 140 countries, made repeated calls for governments to work with civil society in meeting the growing gap between social needs and public resources. In an address delivered by Undersecretary Moreno, Kofi Annan called for a global government-civil society consensus on development as part of a ‘system-wide exercise’; the Prime Minister of Korea stressed the link between civil society and governmental reform and accountability; the President of Brazil emphasised that civil society and engaged citizens were at the centre of policy action locally as well as globally; and leading government officials from countries and organisations as diverse as Tanzania, Thailand, Iran, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Italy, South Africa, the European Union and the OECD stressed the role of civil society in forging efficient systems of public-private partnerships in service delivery, the contribution of civil society to greater transparency and accountability, and greater social inclusion. While many scholars are beginning to problematise the idea of civil society as a panacea (Chandhoke 2005), diverse government leaders continue to be all the more enamoured of the concept.
Developing a conceptual framework
In her insightful and novel analysis of the organisation of production, Diane Elson (1998: 5–6) argues cogently for a model of political economy that includes the domestic. Using a tripartite model of the private, public and domestic sectors, she demonstrates how the circuits of the market (through which goods, services, money and labour flow), of taxes and benefits (through which income transfers and public goods flow) and of communications (through which information, rumours, ideas, values and meanings flow) connect these sectors and channel the flows between them. At the same time the sectors feed into these channels. To illustrate, the market feeds commercial values through the communications network, the state transmits regulatory values, and the domestic feeds provisioning values. These values in turn can have positive as well as negative dimensions. Thus, the domestic sector may feed in values of caring and giving as well as of patriarchy (Elson 1998: 6).
A survey of European bilateral and multilateral democracy promotion policies from 2001–6 by the Fundacion Para Las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior (FRIDE) also found that there was sufficient complexity and diversity to make it difficult to speak of ‘the European approach’ (Youngs 2006: 25, emphasis in original). Of the seven countries surveyed (Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK), there was variation in the levels of ‘democracy-related competence’ and ‘manpower allocated specifically to democracy promotion responsibilities remained limited’, with Sweden having the most clearly articulated democracy promotion policies (Youngs 2006: 16–17). While various European bilateral donors, including the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA), actively support and engage with civil society actors through their programmes, they tend to view democracy as a means by which to eliminate or overcome poverty (DFID URLa; URLb) or as a means for achieving peace, justice and human rights (SIDA 1997). Democracy is not discussed as a matter of principle or centrepiece of policy, as in the US context discussed above.