Joshua Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (1992), pp. 1-92.

Important Insight: There are three societies: civil, political, and economic. Focussing on civil society, the authors argue that the concept of civil society indicates a terrain in the West that is endangered by the logic of administrative and economic mechanisms but is also the primary locus for the potential expansion of democracy under ‘really existing’ liberal-democratic regimes. Only a concept of civil society that is properly differentiated from the economy (and therefore from ‘bourgeois society’) could become the centre of a critical political and social theory in societies where the market economy has already developed, or is the process of developing, its own autonomous logic.


Method: theoretical discussion.




*what is at stake is not simply the defence of society against the state or the economy, but which version of civil society is to prevail.

*definition: civil society: a sphere of social interaction between economy and state, composed above all of the intimate sphere (especially family), the sphere of associations (especially voluntary associations), social movements, and forms of public communication. Modern civil society is created through forms of self-constitution and self-mobilization.

*it is distinct from political (parties, parliaments, etc) and economic society (firms, corporations, etc), although they arise from civil society.

*the political role of civil society is not conquest of power but the generation of influence

*without active participation on the part of citizens in egalitarian institutions and civil associations, as well as in politically relevant organizations, there will be no way to maintain the democratic character of the political culture of social and political institutions.

*against the pluralists, they reject the view that the ‘civic culture’ most appropriate to a modern civil society is one based on civil privatism and political apathy.

*against participation theorists, they argue for more, not less, structural differentiation. The genesis of democratic legitimacy and the chances for direct participation are located not in some idealized, de-differentiated polity but within a highly differentiated model of civil society itself. There are variety of channels of influence between civil and political society and between the state and civil society (e.g. social movements, political parties, etc. are all legitimate and relevant).

*against the neoconservatives, they argue that simple claims of “society against the state” are often based on a conception of society as bourgeois society. The real task is to guarantee the autonomy of the modern state and economy while simultaneously protecting civil society from the destructive penetration and functionalization by the imperatives of the two spheres.

*three central debates:

*elite vs participatory democracy:

*the empirical theories of democracy (elite, pluralist, corporatist, and rational choice models) tend quite openly to reduce the normative meaning of the term to a set of minimums modelled on a conception of bargaining, competition, access, and accountability derived more from the market than from earlier models of citizenship.

*by contrast, the participatory model of democracy maintains that what makes for good leaders also makes for good citizens – active participation and in ruling and being ruled (i.e. in the exercise of power) and also in public will and opinion formation.

*it is through political experience that one develops a conception of civic virtue, learns to tolerate diversity, to temper fundamentalism and egoism, and to become able and willing to compromise.

*rights-oriented liberalism vs communitarianism:

*both rights-oriented liberals and communitarians reject the antinormative, empiricist, utilitarian strains in the empirical theories of democracy, but they differ in their formulation of a convincing normative theory of democratic legitimacy or justice.

*liberals: respect of individual  rights and the principle of political neutrality is the standard for legitimacy in constitutional democracies.

*communitarians: the social order should have primacy over the individual, and duties arise from the community level on the basis of membership in social orders.

*critics (neoconservatives) and defenders of the welfare state:

*either we choose more social engineering, paternalism, and levelling (in short, more statism) in the name of egalitarianism and social rights or we opt for the free market an/or the refurbishing of authoritarian social and political forms of organization and relinquish the democratic, egalitarian components of our political culture in order to block further bureaucratization of everyday life.

*it seems that liberal democratic market societies cannot coexist with nor without the welfare state.

Philip Oxhorn, “From controlled inclusion to coerced marginalization: the struggle for civil society in Latin America,” in J. Hall, ed., Civil Society: Theory, History and Comparison (1995).

Argument:  socio-economic and political changes in the region over the past 30 years are propitious for the emergence of civil societies similar to those found in Western Europe. The associational life which appeared to flourish during the 70s and into the 80s is a result of this context and reflects the incipient emergence of civil society in many countries. In contrast to Western Europe, however, there is also the potential for ‘democratizing’ civil society which is paradoxically the result of the authoritarian experience itself. Whether or not incipient civil societies will continue to grow (let alone become more democratic) will be dependent on the role played by political parties in relation to both civil society and the state, since parties can undermine the emergent civil society.


Method: includes the discussion of some Latin American cases.


Important Insight: political parties and their relationship with popular organizations provide a central axis around which the fate of civil society will revolve. Parties are the principal mechanism for inclusion under the democratic regimes that have emerged in Latin America in recent years: where they are weak (e.g. Brazil) their very weakness tends to reinforce the clientelism and populist tendencies which have historically circumscribed the development of civil society; where party system are strong (e.g. Chile) or dominated by a single hegemonic party (e.g. Mexico), the sheer strength of political parties seems to smother the potential for civil society’s emergence. Parties should therefore ideally incorporate some participatory tendencies so as not to undermine civil society.






-political parties and their relationship with popular organizations provide a central axis around which the fate of civil society will revolve. Parties are the principal mechanism for inclusion under the democratic regimes that have emerged in Latin America in recent years: where they are weak (e.g. Brazil) their very weakness tends to reinforce the clientelism and populist tendencies which have historically circumscribed the development of civil society; where party system are strong (e.g. Chile) or dominated by a single hegemonic party (e.g. Mexico), the sheer strength of political parties seems to smother the potential for civil society’s emergence.

-tensions between popular organizations and political parties result from a number of causes:

-the presence of multiple parties competing for popular-sector support is divisive and fragments popular organizations.

-there is a clash between the participatory and democratic organizational style characteristic of popular organizations and the more hierarchical style of political parties.

-these tensions are not inevitable, and democratic party structures can help ameliorate many of these problems:

-to avoid confrontation, political parties could adopt some of the participatory values expressed by popular organizations if they wish to interact with them.


-the civil society approach, as a collectivist perspective, equates strong civil societies with a high level of institutionalized social pluralism. This has two implications: individual units should have a high degree of autonomy in defining their collective interests (to ensure that all are effectively represented); and political democracy is the result rather than the cause of a civil society, since civil society works to disperse political power throughout entire polities, thereby contributing to the advent of stable democratic regimes.

Russell Hardin et. al. Cooperation Without Trust? (2007), Chapter 6.

Chapter 6: Institutional Alternatives to Trust.


Summary: this chapter considers three major institutional structures for getting our agents to be reliable (and the difficulties with them): professional regulation, competitive self-regulation by scientists, and the market regulation of business.


Important Insight: when it comes to agents whose actions we cannot readily judge or even oversee (a large problem due to increasing scale) and whose interests do not strongly encapsulate our own, we need to impose sanctions or some other form of interests on the agents to constrain their behaviour so that they act in our interest. When we do this, their interest in being reliable comes from outside their relationship with us – namely, from institutional structures. In sum, the chapter is concerned with the form that interests can be made to take to give these agents incentives to behave in ways that we might call reliable but without our being able to say that the agents encapsulate our interests, as would be required for trust relations.






*this chapter considers three major institutional structures for getting our agents to be reliable (and the difficulties with them): professional regulation, competitive self-regulation by scientists, and the market regulation of business.

*professional regulation: the chief task of the professional organizations seem to be some slight degree of oversight of actual practice and much more assiduous oversight of laws that might affect the professionals. For the public, the most important role of the professional associations is probably in their oversight of the education and training of future professionals.

*at the core of professional codes of behaviour are rules requiring some behaviours and proscribing others. The reason a profession is desirable is that it benefits potential clients.

*but these professional organizations (e.g. the ABA and the AMA) are sometimes too beholden to their own professional members to be entirely reliable in compelling their members to treat clients and patients well.

*competitive self-regulation by scientists: in the search for knowledge, scientists have traditionally relied on a body of professional scientists committed to testing or confirming the results of others, thereby overcoming the problem of individual scientists presenting false results through laziness, self-interest, etc.

*commercial incentives for scientists to produce results that disagree with others’ findings, however, suggest that a formal regulatory system may be required.

*the market regulation of business: for business firms, the principal problem of reliability is the apparent conflict between the organization’s interests and the interests of those it serves and those who happen to be affected by its external effects. Intra-organizational incentive systems commonly reduce the need for reliance on trust relationships just as they reduce the need for reliance on moral commitments. However, because the virtual definition of the purpose of a business organization is to increase or even maximize its profit, such an organization faces a massive problem of fitting its interests to behaving morally toward the larger world in various ways.


*four devices for matching organizational incentives to relevant behaviour: simple self-interest; organizational incentive systems and role definitions; legal sanctions; and inculcation of norms.

Jonathan Fox, How does civil society thicken? The political construction of social capital in rural Mexico”, World Development 24 (1996), pp. 1089-1103

Summary: explores pathways for the ‘thickening’ of civil society under less-than-democratic conditions.


Method: examination of the variety in political dynamics across different regions and over time in rural Mexico.


Important Insight: argues that the growth of the building-block organizations of an autonomous civil society in an authoritarian environment depends on the ‘political construction’ of social capital (which emerges via cycles of interaction between states and society). Social capital can be produced (a) by state and local actors (synergistic collaboration – the main pattern in rural Mexico) or (b) by the interaction of local societal actors and external actors in civil society (religious, developmental, environmental, civic, or political). Social capital may also be produced (c) from below, but external allies still turn out to be crucial in the ability of such organizations to survive.






*three conceptual building blocks contribute to the ‘political construction’ approach to the uneven emergence of social capital under authoritarian regimes:

1) political opportunities: elite political conflicts have an independent causal effect on civil society’s capacity to organize because they determine the state’s willingness and capacity to encourage or dismantle social capital.

2) social energy and ideas: while historical legacies shape the ways in which actors respond to positive or negative incentives for collective action, they do not respond in automatic or unidirectional ways. Contingent ideas, leadership, and action influence whether grievances are defined as shared and whether problems are interpreted as subject to change.

3) the processes of ‘scaling up’ local representation and bargaining power: social capital is not homogenous – some kinds of organizations have more public good ‘spillover effects’ than others. The premise here is that bargaining power is necessary to create respect for freedom of association, which in turn requires some degree of ‘scaling up’ of organization beyond the most local level (contrast this with Putnam, 1993).

*scaling up is especially important for representing the interests of dispersed populations since they have the greatest difficulty in defining common interests and are the most vulnerable to ‘divide and conquer’ efforts from above.

Ashutosh Varshney, “Ethnic conflict and civil society: India and beyond”, World Politics 53 (2001), pp. 362-398

Summary: examines the links between civil society and ethnic conflict. Argues that there is an integral (probabilistic) link between the structure of civic life in a multiethnic society, on the one hand, and the presence or absence of ethnic violence, on the other (in short, that trust based on interethnic, not intraethnic, networks is critical). To illustrate these links, two interconnected arguments are made:


1) interethnic and intraethnic networks of civic engagement play very different roles in ethnic conflict. Because they build bridges and manage tensions, interethnic networks are agents of peace, but if communities are organized only along intraethnic lines and the interconnections with other communities are very weak or even nonexistent, then ethnic violence is quite likely.

*exogenous shocks, tensions, or rumours are thus mediated by the type of networks  that exist.

2) civic networks, both intraethnic and interethnic, can also be broken down into two other types: a) organized (associational forms of engagement) and b) quotidian (everyday forms of engagement). Both forms of engagement, if robust, promote peace: contrariwise, their absence or weakness opens up space for ethnic violence. Of the two, however, the associational forms turn out to be sturdier than everyday engagement, especially when confronted with attempts by politicians to polarize people along ethnic lines.

*vigorous associational life, if interethnic, acts as a serious constraint on politicians, even when ethnic polarization is in their political interest. The more the associational network cuts across ethnic boundaries, the harder it is for politicians to polarize communities.


Method: uses three paired comparisons (all in India) of a riot-prone city matched with a peaceful one (with populations between half a million and just over four million), with all three sets paired according to roughly similar Hindu-Muslim percentages in the city populations, a second set paired with extra controls for previous Muslim rule and reasonable cultural similarities, and a third pair included controls for history, language, and culture.






-while everyday forms of engagement may be enough to maintain peace on a small scale (villages or small towns), it is no substitute for interethnic associations in larger settings (cities and metropolises). Size reduces the efficacy of informal interactions, privileging formal associations.

-the role of inter-communal civic networks has been crucial for peace at a proximate level. Taking the long view, however, the causal factor was a transformative shift in national politics. Once put in place by the (Indian) national movement, the civic structures took on a life and logic of their own, constraining the behaviour of politicians in the short to medium run

Rex Brynen et. al. Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World. (1994), vol.1, Chapters by Anderson and Hudson.

Hudson (1994) The Political Culture Approach to Arab Democratization: The case for bringing it back in, carefully.


Summary:discusses the use of political culture in studies of the Arab world, and argues that its (careful) use is required.


Important Insight: the experiments in liberalization, even democratization, occurring in several countries (e.g. Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco) cannot be adequately explained without invoking political culture. Despite its conceptual untidiness and empirical difficulties, political culture is an important variable; it cannot be reduced to other factors such as economics, institutions, or externalities; it is necessary for helping explain how authoritarianism is losing its legitimacy. The political culture concept, then, must be brought back in – but carefully. We need, and can develop, more sophisticated, less biased formulations of political culture(s) in Arab politics that will help us understand the possibilities and limits of alternatives to authoritarianism.

*thus far, writers on political culture in the Arab world fall into two categories: the reductionist approaches  – with their generalizations that Arab Muslims have a political culture that permits no public sphere and that is anti-democratic; and the empirical approaches – which are underdeveloped

*the key question is therefore how to deal empirically with civil society and political culture in general.




Anderson (1994) Democracy in the Arab World: A critique of the political culture approach.


Important Insight: the nature of the political regimes in the Arab world, like those elsewhere in the world, can best be understood as reflections of the political economy of the countries in question, particularly the character of their integration into the world economy. This is not to say that values and attitudes do not play a role in politics. Obviously they do, but we must consider far more carefully how best to assess when and where they have their impact.


*rather than simply survey the attitudes and behaviour of the population in question, most analysts begin with an effort to explain the absence of something desirable – democracy – by the presence of something undesirable – in this instance, ‘bad attitudes’. Perhaps, however, this lacuna is more appropriately attributable to the absence of other desirable traits – full national sovereignty, for example, or greater economic prosperity – rather than the presence of some kind of congenital defect.

*there are two mistakes here and together they compound the problems they separately create. The result are self-fulfilling prophecies rather than carefully reasoned or carefully researched arguments.

**first, as we have seen, accounting for what is absent, while not impossible, is extremely difficult and requires very rigorous specification of the feature whose absence is to be explained.

**second, when that feature is something so simultaneously intricate and value-laden as democracy, that requirement for rigour is almost guaranteed to be relaxed in the face of the complexity and desirability of the phenomenon itself.

Michael Bratton, ‘Beyond the state: civil society and associational life in Africa”, World Politics 41 (1989), pp. 407-430.

(This is a actually a book review of four volumes)


Important Insight: argues that Africanist political scientists should devote more research attention to the associational life that occurs in the political space beyond the state’s purview. A statist perspective must be tempered by an account of the dynamic influence of society. With few exceptions, African political elites have been unable to engineer a lasting consolidation of power, the reproduction of a governing class, or an improvement of living standards for members of society at large.






*despite efforts at inclusionary corporatism and mass de-politicization, ‘politics’ has not become coterminous with ‘the state’. Because of the shallow penetration of society by weak state institutions, there is a relatively larger realm of unoccupied political space in Africa than anywhere else in the world.

*this terrain has yet to be adequately explored and mapped, and we therefore need to refocus attention on a more pluralistic array of political actions. Civil society has an independent effect upon economy and society, as well as upon the formation, consolidation, and performance of the state itself.

Sheri Berman, “Civil society and the collapse of the Weimar Republic”, World Politics (1997), pp. 401-429.

‘Summary: responds to Putnam (1993) and his ilk, re: the neo-Tocquevilian thoery.


Method: case study of Weimar Germany and the rise of the Nazi party.


Important Insight: a flourishing civil society does not necessarily bode well for the prospects of liberal democracy – institutions matter. For civil society to have the beneficial effects neo-Toquevillieans posit, the political context has to be right: absent strong and responsive political institutions, an increasingly active civil society may serve to undermine, rather than strengthen, a political regime. Without such political institutions, societies will lack trust and the ability to define and realize their common interests. In such situations, associationalism will probably undermined political stability, by deepening cleavages, furthering dissatisfaction, and providing rich soil for oppositional movements.






*instead of helping to reduce social cleavages, Germany’s weak and poorly designed political institutions exacerbated them; instead of responding to the demands of an increasingly mobilized population, the country’s political structures obstructed meaningful public life. As a result, citizen’s energies and interests were deflected into private associational activities, which were generally organized within rather than across group boundaries (i.e. were an example of ‘bonding’ rather than ‘bridging’).

*the vigour of civil society activities then continued to draw public interest and involvement away from parties and politics, further sapping their strength and significance.

Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina, (eds.), Civic Engagement in American Democracy (1999).

‘Summary: this is a collection of essays on civic engagement in the US. Some of these are quantitative, but most are qualitative. Specific findings are listed in the notes section below.


Important Insight: while American civic life remains relatively robust in comparative terms, there has been a notable shift towards groups that solicit money or try to add names to their membership list as against groups based in local chapters of more or less active members. Thus, the decline of civic life looks less pronounced if one counts organizations than if one gauges participation in the new universe of groups.


The reason for this is that these organizations are quite oligarchic, and in no way answerable to a mass membership base. Moreover, advocacy organizations have their own dynamic, which – in the search for the ‘drama and controversy’ they need to sustain themselves – impels them toward narrow stances and polarized positions.






*in a civic life dominated by staff led advocacy, ordinary people have little voice. Instead, under a ‘reconfigured class structure’ the managerial and professional stratum occupies key positions.

**this reshaping and partial decline of civic activity includes several elements:

*race is relevant insofar as legal integration may have had the perverse effect of weakening some national civic groups. Some whites withdraw from settings whose racial character can no longer be guaranteed.

*changing religious commitments: absent the great upsurge in evangelical denominations, religious would have surely declined. Yet these newer denominations make a more modest civic contribution than do the older variants of American Protestantism that they have replaced.

*persistent inequality: people with more resources are more civically engaged.

*in the introductory essay, Skocpol and Fiorina review three theories that posit alternative causes for ongoing transformations in civic life:

1) the social capital approach, which emphasizes socialization into the norms, networks, and cooperative actions seen as necessary for solving social problems.

2) the rational choice approach, which focuses on incentives for individual action.

3) the historical-institutional approach, which emphasizes changing organizational patterns, the resources available for collective action, and relationships between elites and the mass public.

*whereas Putnam emphasizes the role of social trust in fostering democracy, Skocpol points out that the creation and evolution of democratic regimes also is fostered by conflict and distrust.

*research in this volume makes clear that scholars who use different theoretical perspectives may reach differing conclusions about how voluntary associations affect civic life, social capital formation, and the operations of political institutions.

*several essays address the question of whether the associational life of American communities has increased or decreased over time or changed in other ways that significantly influence social capital formation and its effects on civic engagement:

*Dobkin Hill focuses on the community level, and analyzes trends in the population of organizations from 1850 to 1998 in New Haven, CT, and the implications of organizational change for patterns of civic engagement.

*he argues that the rise of tax-exempt nonprofit agencies devoted to delivering social services moves these social agencies away from reliance on membership relationships.

*chapters by Skocpol and by Clemen indicate that women’s voluntary associations have had significant effects on social welfare policy. They both highlight ways in which the institutions and activities of American government have influenced the identities, organizational forms, and strategies of voluntary associations at the centre of ‘civil society’, even as associations themselves have helped to transform public policies and the very ‘rules of the game’ in politics and governance.

*as Skocpol points out, this contrasts to Putnam’s conclusion that these associations had few effects on policies during the Progressive era.

*Clemen provides an historical analysis of the role of women’s groups in the transformation of American politics between 1890 and 1920. She reveals their role in political mobilization and shows how their structure and internal procedures affected both external perceptions of the organizations and patterns of interaction among them.

*multiple models of organizations – an ‘organizational repertoire’ – enabled challengers of the established political order to employ non-political models of organization.

*Berry addresses post-WWII patterns of citizen advocacy groups through an examination of their participation in congressional hearings on domestic social and economic policy as well as media coverage of group activity. His research suggests that growing membership in groups based in Washington reflects a shift from local voluntary organizations to national groups that focus on policy solutions at the national level.

*because such membership often entails little or no activity other than writing a cheque, the creation of social capital may be weakened.

*several chapters evaluate long-term changes in American society and their consequences for voluntary associations and civic engagement:

*Bint and Levy consider cultural and organizational changes among professionals.

*they argue that contemporary leaders of professional associations do not address society-wide civic values as much as their predecessors did. Professional engagement with public concerns is now more bureaucratized and compartmentalized.

*Crawford and Leviitt use the PTA for a case study.

*Ridlen Ray discusses the effects of changes in communications technology for group formation.

*argues that each wave of technological innovation in some ways facilitates, and in other ways undercuts, the social ties that undergird civic engagement.

*Wuthrow explores the effects of religious involvement on patterns of civic engagement.

* the newer (evangelical) religious denominations make a more modest civic contribution than do the older variants of American Protestantism that they have replaced. These denominations tend to channel *Skocpol examines changes over time in the universe of voluntary associations, with a focus on the withering of national membership federations and the development and growth of advocacy groups arising from social movements of the 60s.

*she attributes alterations to changes in the political opportunity structure, new methods and models for building and maintaining organizations, shifts in social class relationships, and evolving race relations and gender roles.

*an alternative approach for examining social capital formation is provided by Rahn, Brehm, and Carlson. They use survey data to examine how social capital may be generated through participation in a national election.

*they suggest that participation in the shared ritual and organized contention of national elections can strengthen Americans’ sense of political efficacy and social solidarity.

*patterns of civic engagement are generally assessed as a positive contribution to society, but negative consequences may flow from political participation.

*Fiorina points out possible negative consequences from activism by extremists. Argues that political participation tends to be dominated by extremists, rather than typical citizens, by people who are strongly issue-oriented in contrast with those who are often uninformed, somewhat indifferent, but nevertheless collectively solid.

*Schlozman, Verba, and Brady examine inequalities in civic participation and consider the biases that these bring to the political system.

Dietlind Stolle and Marc Hooghe, “Inaccurate, exceptional, one-sided or irrelevant? The debate about the alleged decline of social capital and civic engagement in Western democracies”, British Journal of Political Science 35 (2005), pp. 149-167.

‘Summary: this is a review article of the social capital debate. It addresses studies (such as Putnam’s Bowling Alone, 2000) that that not only describe and document an erosion of traditional integration mechanisms, but also interpret this evolution as a fundamental threat to the survival of healthy communities and democratic political systems (i.e. ‘the decline thesis’).



Important Insight: It presents four distinct modes of criticism of the decline thesis:


1) rejection of the thesis on empirical grounds. The available data simply do not support the decline thesis, and strong variations in social capital’s numerous aspects are possible across time and across societies – there is no general syndrome.

**calls for continuation and replication of already existing time-series.

2) empirical grounds are ok, but the decline thesis is not generalizable outside of the US. In other Western societies, social capital and civic engagement are not declining to the same extent as in the US. The available evidence does not suggest a broad, Western decline.

**calls for cross-national longitudinal studies.

3) while traditional forms of participation have declined, the decline thesis’ failure to incorporate new forms of participation and interaction that fulfil the same functions with regard to socialization and interest mediation.

*the problem with this argument as that systematic evidence on the new forms of involvement has yet to be collected, and thus studies in this field are often anecdotal in nature. What’s more, new forms of participation are potentially less collective and group-oriented in character (e.g. ethical consumerism, passive membership in cheque-book organizations).

*calls for the development of new survey questions and instruments that adequately measure these new forms.

4) while the decline thesis is correct, its normative consequences are not. The decline of traditional participation formats is seen as largely irrelevant for the future of democratic systems. Post-modernization erodes respect for authority, but increases support for democracy.

*calls for further research at the macro-level, and a re-invigoration of the old governability debate.