Civil society

Authored by: Manès Weisskircher

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138665569
eBook ISBN: 9781315619811
Adobe ISBN:


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The concept of civil society has been intensively debated by scholars, activists and policymakers from diverse ideological backgrounds. Its vast scope is underlined by the six forms of civil society discussed in the Oxford Handbook of Civil Society: the nonprofit sector, development NGOs, grassroots associations, social movements, social enterprises, and global civil society. Going beyond normative definitions of civil society, this entry focuses on four empirical dimensions that are crucial for understanding not only civil society, but also the citizen media that civil society players produce. First, civil society overlaps and interacts with other political players such as the state and markets. Correspondingly, civil society players do not produce media in a separate sphere – the very possibility of producing citizen media is severely constrained by state action and corporate market structures and logics. Second, conflict is inherent to civil society – its players do not operate in a harmonious sphere. Transferring this insight to citizen media practices, civil society players may clash heavily over the control of online domains and social media accounts, for example. Third, civil society does not only consist of ‘progressive’ players in favour of left-wing or liberal values; far-right groups that produce various forms of citizen media, offline and online, also belong to civil society. Fourth, the consequences of a ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ civil society are highly disputed, for instance in relation to the exercise of democracy. Similarly, citizen media may have various important effects, but in some cases their role is overstated. In addressing these issues, the entry draws on a variety of citizen media practices involving civil society players, such as the ‘pink tide’ movement in Latin America, Indymedia, the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, Samizdat in Eastern Europe, the role of social media during the Arab Spring, and radical right PEGIDA groups in Germany and beyond.

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