The Epistemology of the Concept of Civil Society in the West and Iranian Interpretations/L'ÉPISTÉMOLOGIE DU CONCEPT DE LA SOCIÉTÉ CIVILE DANS LES INTERPRÉTATIONS OCCIDENTALE ET IRANIENNE

Article excerpt

Abstract:

The article in first part is going to review the conceptual evolution of the civil society in the western political thought. It shows how the changes of dominant discourses in political thought and social transition in the west led to change of the interpretations of civil society. In second part the article illustrates Iranian scholars' interpretations on the concept of civil society in Khatami's era. Eventually the article concludes that common sense of civil society in Iran was affected by associational theories on civil society particularly Habermas's public sphere notion and Cohen and Arato's definition on the concept.

Keywords: Civil society; Political thought; Iran; Islamic culture; Public sphere

Résumé: Dans la première partie, l'article va passer en revue l'évolution conceptuelle de la société civile dans la pensée politique occidentale. Il montre comment les changements des discours dominants dans la pensée politique et la transition sociale en Occident conduisent à un changement des interprétations de la société civile. Dans la deuxième partie, l'article illustre les interprétations du concept de la société civile des chercheurs iraniens dans l'époque Khatami. Finalement, l'article conclut que le sens commun de la société civile en Iran a été affectée par les théories associatives sur la société civile, en particulier la notion de la sphère publique d'Habermas et la définition de ce concept de Cohen et d'Arato.

Mots-clés: société civile; pensée politique; Iran; culture islamique; sphère publique

Ovil society is a Utopian ideal that has never been fully realized in any actually existing social system, and never will be.

(Alexander, 1998)

1. INTRODUCTION

Transformations of concepts show that the historical evolution of a concept is not only a narration of its gradual refinement and its degree of abstraction, but is instead the description of the degree of its validity, "the successive rules governing its usage and the manifold theoretical environments in which it developed and was given its final form" (Foucault, 1970). Epistemology of the concept demonstrates civil society has been had essential transformation in political thought in the west. This paper reviews various important interpretations of the concept of civil society in western philosophy as well as illustrates various interpretations on the concept in Iran.

The idea of civil society has considered as a necessary requirement to achieve democracy also for its survival. Nowadays civil society is really universal concept that has mentioned in the East Europe as well as Middle East and Latin America. However it is a shapeless term which doesn't have definite meaning, e.g. Hobbes used it as civilization period; Hegel imagined civil society as a stage between family and state; Edmund Burke called these the little platoons of society that form the basis of political life (Roskin, Medeiros, Cord, & Jones, 2008).

When a researcher investigates to understand on the issue of civil society, several challenges emerge. The first is the different usages of the concept by philosophers, sociologists and political scientists, because civil society is an interdisciplinary concept, moreover many scholars and philosophers contributed to the evolution of the concept. The second is that civil society as an ideal society has been used by most of politician as a way to attain democracy; therefore they interpret the concept based on their political interests. The third problem comes from the usage of the Western concepts in the context of Non- Western societies. Socio-cultural conditions in Non- Western countries causes reductionism or misunderstanding western philosophical concepts like civil society.

The above mentioned problems require a historical review on evolution of civil society concept. This paper is going to review the evolution of civil society concept and its different interpretations in the history of philosophy from Plato to Habermas in the West by a chronological arrangement. …