Towards a Global Polity

By Morten Ougaard; Richard Higgott | Go to book overview

7

Civil society and governance in the global polity

Jan Aart Scholte


Introduction

Recent years have regularly seen the spotlight fall on civil society involvement in global governance - the environmental movement, the landmine campaign, the 'anti-globalisation' protests, etc. Since the 1980s, and especially since the mid-1990s, more and more business associations, labour movements, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), religious groups and think tanks have turned their attention to the ways that we are managing (or mismanaging) transworld issues. By now, most politicians and officials acknowledge - however eagerly or reluctantly - that civil society mobilisation in respect of global policies is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

This activity arguably represents evidence of a global polity along the lines sketched by the editors of this book. Civil society initiatives on global governance involve 'political structures, agents and processes with transnational properties'. They also manifest 'thick interconnectedness' and 'thin community that transcends the territorial state' (this volume: 12).

This chapter elaborates this general point in five stages. First, it develops a notion of 'civil society' in relation to contemporary world politics. A second section then notes the large diversity that marks civil society activism on global governance issues. The third part of the chapter examines forces that have generated the recent growth of this mobilisation. The fourth section identifies the broad impacts that civil society has had on global governance in the late twentieth century. Finally, the chapter addresses questions of the legitimacy of civil society involvement in global governance. 1


Defining 'civil society'

Like 'globalisation', 'civil society' is a buzzword of contemporary political commentary whose definition must be carefully specified if it is to have analytical purchase. This is not to promise an exact and definitive conception, but to seek a working definition of civil society that sheds light on current history.

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