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Organizing without organizations: on informal social activism in Poland

Dominika Vergara Polanska (Institute for Housing and Urban Research, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden)
Galia Chimiak (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 12 September 2016




The purpose of this paper is to examine motivations of social activists in informal initiatives and to understand why they opt for this more spontaneous and self-organized activism while openly defying the hitherto established way of founding non-governmental organizations.


On the basis of a case study of Poland, which had one of the most vibrant civil societies in the socialist region, it is argued that the characteristics ascribed to the functioning of civil society after the toppling of socialism are not reflected in its more recent state. A broader definition of civil society and social activism is suggested to include new types of informal activism, which tend to be over-looked and under-studied. The analysis is built on qualitative and quantitative data gathered in 2014-2015.


The argument put forward is that un-institutionalized engagement is qualitatively different from its formal and institutionalized counterpart. The recent growth of informal activism is indicative of a rebirth of communitarian engagement in Polish civil society and a reaction to the underside of its institutionalization.


In spite of the seminal role played by societal self-organization in the overturning of the socialist system in Eastern European countries, the development of civil society in the region after 1989 has been repeatedly described as passive and characterized by distrustful or individualist attitudes. However, these civil societies have been changing since, and these more recent developments have been neglected by scholars.



Dominika V. Polanska would like to thank the funders of her research; the Baltic Sea Foundation (Grant No. 2185/311/2014) and the Institute for Housing and Urban Research at Uppsala University. Special thanks to her co-author, Galia, for inviting her to take part in the project “The undiscovered dimension of the Third sector: a study of un-institutionalized civic activism” and to the anonymous reviewers and editors of this issue for their help in improving this paper.

Galia Chimiak would like to acknowledge the opportunity to take part in the research project “The undiscovered dimension of the Third sector: a study of un-institutionalized civic activism” funded by the Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and implemented by the Center for Local Activities Association in partnership with Collegium Civitas in Warsaw. She would like to extend her appreciation to Dominika for inviting her to co-author this paper as well as to the reviewers for their constructive feedback.


Polanska, D.V. and Chimiak, G. (2016), "Organizing without organizations: on informal social activism in Poland", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 36 No. 9/10, pp. 662-679.



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