Sociology Index

CIVIL SOCIETY

Civil society is the sphere of social life that is separate from the intimate social bond of family and autonomous from regulation and scrutiny of the state. Generally, civil society refers to the social interaction between individuals as free makers of contracts acting with rational self-interest in a society where all have equal legal status.

The concept of civil society also implies limits on the state's role in regulating social life and a generalized responsibility of individuals to act with due regard to the interests and collective life of the community.

The Paradoxes of Civil Society - Jeffrey C. Alexander, University of California.
Emerging from recent social and political struggles, the notion of `civil society' can and should be transformed into a sociological concept on both the theoretical and empirical level. This means going beyond Marxism and social democratic understandings of civil society as a world of selfish economic interests, and going beyond the liberal equation of civil society with legal protections of individual rights, on the other.

Civil society should be conceptualized as a realm of solidarity, a `we-ness' that simultaneously affirms the sanctity of the individual and these individuals' obligations to the collectivity. The solidary sphere can be differentiated not only from markets and states but from such other noncivil spheres as religion, family and science. Yet differentiation does not preclude tension and conflict over boundaries. Civil solidarity is `compromised' and `distorted' by these boundary relations, and also by competing, more primordial definitions of community, such as race, language, nation, territory, and ethnicity. While civil society can be identified with `universal reason' in a philosophical sense, in socio-logical terms it must be articulated by more concrete and identity-related symbolic constructs. For this reason, socio-logical approaches to civil society must be tied to cultural sociology, to theories of symbolic codes and narratives.

Race, Media and Civil Society - Ronald N. Jacobs, State University of New York, Albany 
Historically, the black press has served three important functions: providing a forum for debate and self-improvement; monitoring the mainstream press; and increasing black visibility in white civil society. Because a tolerant and inclusive civil society is most likely when there is a differentiated and diverse set of communications media, the current crisis of the black press is a crisis for American civil society.

The Roots of Civil Society: A Model of Voluntary Association Prevalence Applied to Data on Larger Contemporary Nations - David Horton Smith, Ce Shen 
Based on a literature review, a theory of voluntary association prevalence in nations of the world is proposed. The results have important policy implications for the roots of civil society, political pluralism, and participatory democracy, partially as manifestations of social capital in a society.

Is Knowledge-Based Society a Relevant Strategy for Civil Society? - Maria H´┐Żyrinen-Alestalo 
Governments today tend to see the importance of knowledge, information, education and solidarity through instrumentalism. They are elements of modernity that have a selective use value. Both the ideas of the information society and civil society, however, aim at strengthening the competitive elements of efficiency and control, where the collective capacity for action is limited. Due to a rise of new hierarchies and exclusions it has become necessary to ask why efforts for developing a socially inclusive information society have not been successful. Due to conflicting goals between instrumentalism and democracy, the distinction between the state and civil society is unclear.