This article introduces a special issue of Contention Journal addressing various contemporary mobilizations of civil society in response to the war in Syria and the migration of refugees into Europe. With contributions from Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Canada, the Czech Republic and Germany, the cases represent a breadth of multidisciplinary approaches and a variety of stylistic standpoints, from statistical media analysis to troubled personal reflections of engaged activist academics. The subject matter ranges from political mobilization against authoritarianism and austerity, transnational philanthropy, the emergence of local grassroots voluntary aid to right-wing populist nationalism. Though diverse, a coherent narrative is seen to converge around the refugee crisis as it unfolds in Europe; one of radical polarization within civil societies and starkly conflicting imaginaries of social futures that claim to preclude the legitimacy of other possibilities. At the same time alliances are being generated beyond borders in an attempt to bolster ideological capacity, authority, and force. This is not a clash of civilizations but the rubber band ball of transnational tension, a strained, chaotic and overlapping global contestation. At stake is the understanding of what a civil society should be.
The Rubber Band Ball of Transnational Tensions
Rethinking Topographies of Power Through Transnational Connectivity in Ecuador and Beyond
This article uses a lawsuit against Chevron as a means to examine the complex, compromised, and incomplete practices that form what can be described as Empire/Multitude and state/civil society. The class-action suit, filed on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorian citizens, encapsulates processes of globalization and their attendant consequences. I argue that the binaries Empire/Multitude and state/civil society assume a physiology of coherence and topography of power that obscure their deeply transnational nature. Systematically exploring the networks of connectivity that produce and transform these dyads allows for a refiguring of indigenous peoples within the political realm. Rather than outside or below, subaltern subjects (indigenous and non-indigenous alike) are co-existing political embodiments that can shape the sphere of authority and legitimacy that make up the state and the practices of Empire.
Perspectives from a Network for Refugee Assistance
Shawn Teresa Flanigan and Mounah Abdel-Samad
This article presents early qualitative data from an ongoing project that includes interviews with members of a Syrian diaspora network engaged in giving and receiving philanthropy. With the onset of the Syrian refugee crisis, the network began to provide education for displaced Syrian children in Lebanon in addition to its other activities. The purpose of the research project is to understand motivations and mechanisms of humanitarian assistance toward a conflict region, and also if and how the practice of philanthropy is tied to peacebuilding on the ground and individuals’ sense of political efficacy. This article gives particular attention to the civil society aspects of diasporan assistance, and how those engaged in humanitarian aid conceive of their influence on politics, policy, and peacebuilding.
The Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca
The membership of Colombian indigenous organizations in civil society has been under debate for the past decade. Indigenous organizations themselves have held various positions with respect to their place in civil society, at times opting for armed struggle and at other times for alliances with popular organizations negotiating with the state. What this implies is that we must trace changing indigenous discourses over time to understand how the movement has both distanced itself from and moved closer to the middle-class organizations and institutions of civil society. This article looks at changing alignments with civil society by the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) over the past three decades.
Daniel M. Goldstein, Gloria Achá, Eric Hinojosa, and Theo Roncken
Vigilante violence has become a common practice of creating 'security' in the marginal barrios that surround the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Surprisingly, this violence and the human rights violations it entails are appearing simultaneously with the expansion of civil society in Bolivia. This apparent contradiction, it is argued here, suggests that analysts must expand their definition of 'civil society' to include violent social groups and actors as well as peaceful ones. This article suggests that a fuller understanding of the nature of civil society in Bolivia and other Latin American countries requires us to broaden our understanding of what civil society includes, and so recognize that some acts originating in civil society may restrict rather than deepen and expand individual rights in neo-liberal democracies.
This article reconsiders established anthropological knowledge about postsocialist “civil society” through an analysis of recent efforts of Serbian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to reduce their dependence on foreign donors and develop “local fund-raising” from individuals and businesses. These initiatives had to address widespread suspicion toward NGOs, which confirms earlier findings about their donor-driven origins and the class divide between them and the surrounding society. Nevertheless, the article shows that the fund-raising activists strove to overcome suspicion and indigenize civil society. While anthropologists tend to portray NGO workers as a transnationalized elite, they are more adequately described as a middle-class faction currently subject to a process of precarization. The article also shows how the NGO workers' strategies to overcome suspicion, drawing variously on the global models of rational philanthropy, populist modes of self-presentation, or pre-existing ties to new donors, obscured or reduced the relevance of the class divide.
Assumptions, Dilemmas and the South African Experience
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.
The current moment, seen by some as an interregnum between societies of discipline and control, is marked by intense forms of religious fanaticism and iconoclasm that are striving to create new forms of the state. This is evident in the militancy and political engagement of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, who promote war against Tamil separatists as well as violent resistance to the proselytization identified with global civil society agencies that, due to the war and the 2004 tsunami disaster, have been active in the country. The article looks at this rising Buddhist militancy, which is associated with a political party that is linked to the more famous party known as the JVP. It argues that instead of resisting the formation of the new global civil society, the iconoclasm of this Buddhist political formation is facilitating its establishment.
Hume, Smith and the Justification of European Exploitation of Non-Europeans
Elias L. Khalil
Civil society consists of members obligated to respect each other's rights and, hence, trade with each other as equals. What determines the boundary, rather than the nature, of civil society? For Adam Smith, the boundary consists of humanity itself because it is determined by identification: humans identify with other humans because of common humanness. While Smith's theory can explain the emotions associated with justice (jubilance) and injustice (resentment), it provides a mushy ground for the boundary question: Why not extend the common identity to nonhuman animals? Or why not restrict the boundary to one's own dialect, ethnicity or race? For David Hume, the boundary need not consist of humanity itself because it is determined by self-interest: a European need not respect the property of outsiders such as Native Americans, if the European benefits more by exploiting them than including them in the European society. While Hume's theory can provide a solid ground for the boundary question, it cannot explain the emotions associated with justice. This paper suggests a framework that combines the strengths, and avoids the shortcomings, of Smith's and Hume's theories.
Civil Society and Civic Activism in the Pandemic
institutional trust, and thereby the basis of democracy. For civil society, citizen activism, and a vibrant civic sphere, these measures mark a serious problem, as they intervene in processes that are fundamental to civil society: both organized and spontaneous