Civil society

Authored by: Sabine Lang

The Routledge Handbook of Gender and EU Politics

Print publication date:  March  2021
Online publication date:  March  2021

Print ISBN: 9781138485259
eBook ISBN: 9781351049955
Adobe ISBN:


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The 20th century is called the century of parties; the 21st century, in turn, is believed to become that of civil society. Interest in civil society surged with the end of the Cold War and the east central European transformations. After 1989, strong civil societies were perceived to be prerequisites for democratic political institutions and liberal economies. Thirty years onwards, as more and more traditional political parties are being challenged or replaced by movements or “movement parties,” the demarcation between political institutions and civic mobilization is becoming weaker. Concurrently, civil society has fundamentally changed its means and modes of communication. The digital rights and #MeToo movements stand for civic mobilizations moving from offline to online spaces, showcasing that online activism can be just as, or even more, powerful than street and face-to-face-based protest. Online activism, however, also enables the proliferation of hate speech and dissonant publics. Whether or not civil society is the best buffer against autocratic regime change, global neoliberalism, or social injustice is still up for debate (Cohen and Arato 1992; Rosanvallon 2007; Thiel 2017).

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