Dilemmas of Civil Society: Civil, Civic, or Contested?

26-27 March 2015 - Emanuel College, University of Cambridge

By bringing together scholars working on civil society from a range of empirical and disciplinary perspectives, we aim to explore the interlocking normative and political concerns that animate the discourses and practices of civil society.

Dr. Alex Jeffrey (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.); Dr. David (Sandy) Marshall (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.); Professor Lynn Staeheli (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Discourses and practices of civil society endure. As a tool of government, expression of collective rights and a means of state-building, civil society is a flexible and durable socio-political concept. This interdisciplinary workshop will provide an arena to consider the plural ways in which ideas of civil society – and associated ideas of incivility, insurgency, autogestion and pre-figurative politics – circulate within contemporary critical scholarship. Recent work has focused attention on the network of actors and agencies that are seeking to foster civil society at a range of spatial scales and within a set of diverse global locations. These practices illuminate a tension at the core of this term, gesturing as it does to both a framework through which political activism may be aggregated outside formal state institutions and a structure of governance that can erase or marginalise alternative practices of the political. In doing so, the concept of civil society points simultaneously to the role of collectivities in providing sites of democratic participation and the ways in which civility is ascribed to certain forms of associative life. Such differing interpretations of civil society are mirrored by alternative forms of materiality, from professionalised international non-governmental organisations to the more ephemeral sites of deliberation or protest. Bringing together scholars working in a range of empirical and disciplinary settings, this workshop aims to explore these interlocking normative and political concerns that are captured within the discourse and practice of civil society. 


  • Adjudicating: civility, incivility, antagonism
  • Practising: citizen, insurgent, activist
  • Regulating: facilitation, framing, policing
  • Contesting: alternatives, erasures, silences

List of Participants:
Richard Boyd, Georgetown University
John Clarke, Open University
Jouni Häkli, University of Tampere
Daniel Hammett, University of Sheffield
Alex Jeffrey, University of Cambridge
Briony Jones, Swisspeace
Merje Kuus, University of British Columbia
Charlotte Lemanski, University of Cambridge
Emma Mawdsley, University of Cambridge
Joe Painter, Durham University
Sarah Radcliffe, University of Cambridge
Anna Secor, University of Kentucky
Lynn Staeheli, Durham University

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