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Civil Societies and Democratization

Assumptions, Dilemmas and the South African Experience

Lorenzo Fioramonti

During the past 20 years, the term ‘civil society’ has acquired a specific space within political and social discourse. Journalists have written extensively about this term, political leaders have employed it ever more frequently, and scholarly research has been equally fascinated by the idea of civil society. Paradoxically, the notion of civil society constructed its space within socio-political research as it remained largely unexamined, especially in its relation to democracy and democratization theory. Indeed, most academic literature on democratization has assumed the democratizing power of civil society, based largely on the wake of events occurring in Eastern Europe and some parts of Africa during the late 1980s and early 1990s, rather than on firmly-grounded empirical research.