Civil Society in times of crisis « The Socjournal

21st century global society is undergoing a period of profound economic crisis and transition. During the past twenty years or so, especially after the fall of eastern bloc regimes and their subsequent incorporation into the world economic system, there was a brief moment of optimism about the future. The basic idea was related to the principle that slowly but surely global society is moving away from totalitarianism and that with help provided by the people (civil society), political and civic participation will increase and therefore democracy will be enriched.

However, reality has proved that the above perspective was wrong. Global society and economy moved into, more or less, the opposite direction. There were indeed massive efforts and actions by civic groups ranging from local initiatives to regional and global protests. New movements and organizations appeared which voiced their concerns and put forward their policies on a number of issues such as combating poverty and caring for the environment. But the fundamentals of humanity such as poverty, social inequality, human rights and justice returned with a vengeance. Instead of people increasing their participation in forming and implementing policies, they have been increasingly excluded from the political process resulting in a general diminution of civil rights on a global scale. David Harvey’s seminal idea on ‘accumulation by dispossession’ in which he explains the economic aspect of what he calls the ‘new’ imperialism is closely linked to this.

Subsequently, what sort of ‘mass society’ (after Kornhauser and many others) politics are we experiencing today? It can be safely said that ‘politics’ and the political process in general, have been transformed: ‘governance’ and ‘top-down’ agenda setting is the name of the game in local and global spaces. Essentially liberal-democratic regimes have been de-politicized and although traditional political rights remain in place (for example voting rights), other civil rights which enhance public dialogue and bring coherence to the public sphere have been gradually diminishing (such as education or work). These are indeed uncertain times and the ways in which civil associations will respond shall be indicative of future developments.

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Posted by Alex Afouxenidis on April 19, 2011.

Tags: Political Sociology

Categories: Uncategorized