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Civil Society and the State in the Neoliberal Era: Dynamics of Friends and Enemies

Theorizing Modern Society as a Dynamic Process

ISBN: 978-1-78190-034-5, eISBN: 978-1-78190-035-2

Publication date: 12 October 2012


Purpose – The discourse about civil society is closely tied to the role of collective action in general, and of social movements in particular. Yet the origins of the recent emphasis on civil society are located in the 1980s – the time period during which the wave of neoliberalism began its rise and spread.

Design/methodology/approach – In order to properly situate the concept of civil society and related debates, they must be linked to efforts to delegitimate and demonize the state that also started gaining momentum during that decade.

Findings – The historical context of its emergence suggests that civil society may not be so much an analytical category for purposes of social research, but a theoretical category that is imbued with political content, both positively and negatively – both as a means to promote progressive ends, and as an expression of the context in which those ends started to face mounting resistance.

Research limitations/implications – At the very least, the concept of civil society has a tendency to distract – both by design and by default – from important questions and challenges, such as those related to the role and persistence of structures of inequality in early 21st century global civilization.

Originality/value – A promising starting point to circumnavigate the counterproductive consequences of the use and abuse of the civil society concept and debate for social research may be its explicitly dynamic conceptualization.



Shefner, J. and Dahms, H.F. (2012), "Civil Society and the State in the Neoliberal Era: Dynamics of Friends and Enemies", Dahms, H.F. and Hazelrigg, L. (Ed.) Theorizing Modern Society as a Dynamic Process (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 235-261.



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