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Civil Society and Authoritarianism: Does Civil Society Equal Democratization?

Thu, July 12, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Room, 5A 33

Session Submission Type: Panel


Since its revival in the 1980s the concept of civil society has gained attention for its promotion of democracy, justice, and civic participation. Based on its crucial role in transition processes, scholars emphasize the importance of civil society for the breakdown of authoritarian as well as for the consolidation of democratic regimes. In its most popular understanding, civil society acts as an agent of change and democratization; whether as a sphere of intellectual thinking and preservation of democratic values, a day-to-day school of democracy or as a source of protest and mobilization. (Diamond 1994, O’Donnel et al 1986, Wnuk-Lipinsiki 2009)
Empiricism reveals, however, that civil society does not always equal democratization and that civil society organizations (CSOs) survive or even flourish under (stable) autocratic rule as well: In this context, scholars have questioned the solely “positive” role assigned to civil society, shedding light on its integrative and bonding effects or the dangerous dynamics of organized masses in non-democratic regimes (e.g., Berman 1997, Kaldor et al 2008). Taken together, they have shown that civil society, despite its various virtues and achievements, is neither “bound to a democratic setting” nor “always good, charitable and pro-democratic” (Zinecker 2011).
This panel lays a particular eye on the non-democratic expressions of civil society under autocratic rule: what are the characteristics and motivations of CSOs that tolerate or even actively support an autocratic state, how do they function and legitimize their work, and how do they position themselves against those (oppositional) CSOs that face state repression?
To explore these questions, the panel features four paper presentations on CSOs in past and contemporary non-democratic regimes in Germany, Russia, Turkey, and Nicaragua.

Berman, S. (1997): Civil Society and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic. World Politics 49:3. 401-429.
Diamond, L. (1994): Rethinking Civil Society. Toward Democratic Consolidation. Journal of Democracy 5:3. 4-17.
Kaldor, M. / Kostovicova, D. (2008): Global Civil Society and Illiberal Regimes. In: Albrow, M. et al. (eds.): Global Civil Society 2007/8: Communicative Power and Democracy. Los Angeles: Sage. 86-113.
O'Donnell, G. / Schmitter, P. (1986): Transitions from Authoritarian Rule. Prospects for Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Wnuk-Lipinsky, E. (2009): Civil Society and Democratization. In: Dalton, R. et al.: The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. Oxford University Press. 675-692.
Zinecker, H. (2011): Civil Society in Developing Countries. Conceptual Considerations. Journal of Conflictology 2:1. 1-18.

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