Civil Society

In classical political theory, civil society is a normative concept. This is especially so insofar as civil society specifies that associational life – in a metaphorical space between the household, the market, and the state – neutralises the individualism of modernity, enables pursuit of multiple projects, and allows monitoring of the state.


Rather than see this space as possessed of a single essence, that of solidarity, Chandhoke, drawing upon the insights of Hegel and Gramsci, holds that civil society is a site of multiple struggles between different sorts of democratic and anti-democratic projects. In democracies, civil society has to be Janus faced, with one face turned towards the state as a condensate of power and the other towards anti-democratic forces within its own sphere.


Civil society is a necessary precondition for democracy, but we should take care not to romanticise the sphere. It should rather be seen as the theatre of history where the politics of affirmation and contestation play out, with sometimes expected, and sometimes unexpected, consequences.



Essential Reading:

Chandhoke, Neera 1995. State and Civil Society: Explorations in Political Theory. New Delhi, Sage Publications

Chandhoke, Neera 2005. ‘The Taming of Civil Society’ Seminar 545


Further Reading:

Alagappa, Muthiah (ed) 2004 Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting Democratic Space. Stanford University Press

Bayat, Asef 2013. Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Changed the Middle East. Stanford University Press

Cohen, Jean and Andrew Arato, 1994. Civil Society and Political Theory. Massachusetts, MIT Press



Why, in your opinion, is civil society a necessary precondition for democracy?

For Hegel, civil society embodied the achievements as well as the dangers of modernity. Discuss

Elaborate the role played by civil society in the ‘Arab Spring’

Why does Gramsci see civil society as the site for hegemony?


Submitted by Neera Chandhoke

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