Social Scientist. v 29, no. 342-343 (Nov-Dec 2001) p. 3.

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The Convergence Around Local Civil Society and the Dangers of Localism

Development studies and practice have recently undergone a transition that has yielded an unprecedented emphasis on local civil society (Mohan & Stokke, 2000). There is now a high level of agreement regarding the importance of popular participation for social change and empowerment. Behind the apparent consensus on the importance of local civil society in development, there are quite divergent views on the characteristics and functions of civil society. Two main strands of development thinking and intervention can be identified as particularly relevant in this regard. These can be described as revisionist neo'liberalism and post-Marxism. Revisionist neo-liberalism sees institutions and actors in civil society as partners for enabling state institutions. Popular participation is seen as a means for making development interventions more cost-effective and efficient and also as a step towards privatisation of state services. Post-Marxism, which may be seen as the. main counter-hegemonic position in contemporary development debates, sees civil society as a challenge to the hegemony of global economic liberalism and its associated political institutions. Social movements in civil society hold the potential for bringing about autocentric and socially relevant development in opposition to both the state and the market. Both agree that civil society has a crucial role to play as an alternative to exploitative, parasitic and inefficient states.

This article seeks to address two main questions regarding the role of civil society: (1) What are the theoretical roots and main characteristics of these different views on civil society, and (2) What are the shortcomings of these perspectives? It will be argued that development theory has moved away from a polarised debate over

* Associate University of Oslo, Norway

*"' Lecturer, Open University, UK

Social Scientist, Vol. 29, Nos. 11-12, Nov. - Dec. 2001

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