Gender Studies for a Civil Society: A Russian Experience

Article excerpt

The terms "civil society," "gender," and "gender studies" have become part of contemporary social-political and cultural lexicons as well as tangible forces shaping the modern world. In different world regions, civil society arises under different conditions and has varied political characteristics. The institutionalization of gender issues in academia also differs across regions and can depend on a host of factors, including political culture, behavioral norms and traditions in the academy, and cultural expectations. Although they develop in different ways and in different situations, civil society and gender evidently influence and foster the development of one another. There appears to be a connection between the teaching of gender issues and the creation of civil society. The widening of educational borders to include gender undoubtedly stimulates the creation and development of social consciousness necessary for civil society.

The classical model of civil society is based on the Greek political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. The concept of social contract and the concept of rights were developed during the Enlightenment by Bacon, Hobbs, Locke, and Grotius. Their theories emphasized the principle of personal freedom and the ideas of the self-worth of every person, respect for private property, and economic activity.

In the nineteenth century, the idea of civil society became a political reality in Europe. The theory of civil society was developed by Hegel, who considered civil society as a part of a civil state. (1) Alexis de Tocqueville enriched the theory, presenting civil society as a network of independent associations or organizations that exist parallel to the state. (2)

The question of the existence of civil society is still debated. Some theorists currently see civil society as synonymous with market economy and private property; others (on the orthodox left) consider the idea of the division of civil society and state as negative; and a third group deems civil society to be an autonomous structure, an early liberal stage in the development of capitalism. The representatives of liberal and moderate conservative traditions believe that civil society and state complete one another.

Beginning with Locke, theorists often posited private property as the basis of personal freedom. Private property creates many centers of economic power, excludes the centralization of power by one person or group, and balances the power of the state. (This theory only applied to men, however; women's claim to own property was not deemed legitimate.) If the state does not possess a monopoly on economic opportunity, society is guaranteed a certain degree of economic and political freedom.

The existence of alternative resources as means of subsistence guarantees freedom of choice in different spheres of social life. Therefore, the criteria for the real existence of a civil society are the division of private property and state power and the division of economic and political issues. Because of this tendency, individualism, proclaiming personal freedom and privacy, is the main theoretical resource of the concept of civil society and the stimulus for social development and the creation of democracy. Personal freedom can exist only with free economic choice, which assumes the limitation of state power in the economic sphere.

History suggests that there is no single road map to civil society. Indeed, even states with a long-lasting democratic tradition do not have the unique model of classic civil society. The diversity of forms of civil society mirrors the diversity of its civil initiatives according to the peculiarities of its political and cultural traditions. The range of social initiatives in modern society is very wide, and the entities that foster such initiatives can include social welfare organizations, ecology activists, defenders of justice, youth movements, ethnic groups, special interest clubs, sports associations, and women's movements. …