The contemporary relationship between the State and civil society originates from classical Liberalism. Liberal theory considers civil society to be a necessary condition for democratic States. Central to Liberalism, it has been observed, is the distinction between the public and the private spheres.  The public sphere is based on representative government and the Rule of Law.  The private sphere is that area of individual action, contract, and market exchange, which is protected by and yet independent of the State (Barber, 1996).

A highly articulated civil society with cross-cutting cleavages, overlapping memberships of groups, and social mobility is the presupposition for a stable democratic polity, a guarantee against permanent domination by any one group, and against the emergence of fundamentalist mass movements and anti-democratic ideologies. As Joel Migdal (2001) observes the State is hemmed in – indeed transformed- by these internal forces, just as it is by international forces.  He adds that the society is also transformed by the State.  Social organizations, and the structure of society as a whole, are molded by the opportunities and impediments that the State presents, just as they are affected by other social organizations and by the openings and limitations posed by the world economy.

It has been observed by Neera Chandhoke (1995) that the site at which society enters into a relationship with the State can be defined as civil society. It is accordingly conceptualized as a space or public sphere where people can pursue self-defined ends in an associational area of common concerns. A space, which nurtures and sustains its inhabitants through discussion rather than controls them and their relationships. The other implication is that it is desirable that this discussion is public in the sense of being accessible to all. The third implication is that a space should exist outside officially prescribed channels of communication provided by the State, where this ‘free’ public discussion and debate can take place. The inhabitants of this space are linked together by social bonds created out of new identities and new institutions.

Civil society comprises the social realm in which the creation of norms, identities, institutions, and social relations of domination and resistance are located (Cohen and Arato, 1994). The contemporary civil society, however, is more in tandem with the State. Even the concept of civil society generated by new social movements, as has been rightly observed, does not necessarily deny or undermine the validity of modern State apparatuses. The new social movements have no desire to question the legitimacy of the State or directly take over the State (Gupta, 1999).

What is noticeable about civil society is its supposed interchangeability with the NGOs. Even though NGOs are the major constituents of civil society, they still do not make up the entire gamut of civil society organizations.  As NGOs constitute a major part of civil society organizations, their organization needs to be looked into.  In the globalization scenario, we should know how these NGOs operate at the local, regional, and international levels.    Julie Fisher (1998) talks of two major types of NGOs: i) Locally based Grass Roots Organizations (GROs), and ii) Nationally or regionally based development assistance organizations called Grass Roots Support Organizations (GRSOs). GRSOs are usually staffed by professionals who channel international funds to GROs and help communities other than their own to develop.

In addition to these vertical connections between GROs and GRSOs, there are two other types of NGOs in the Third World defined by their horizontal connections with each other networks linking local communities to one another, and networks of GRSOs.  The two most common types of GROs are local development associations, such as village councils or neighborhood associations that represent an entire community, and interest associations that represent particular groups within a community.  A third type of GRO includes borrower groups, pre-cooperatives, and cooperatives, which may or may not make profits (ibid.).

In recent years, NGOs have begun to look beyond their local and regional roles and have become increasingly adept at bonding together for a common purpose. By pooling resources and coordinating their actions, they have even strengthened their presence in international deliberations on a range of global issues. Thus, there is now what we can term an emerging ‘International civil society’ (Callahan, 2002, op.cit.). The concept of global civil society is hardly new, although the term has come into widespread circulation recently. Over the past few years, efforts to strengthen cross-border links among NGOs have run parallel to the far more visible crusade to create International Government Organizations (IGOs) that could bring the Rule of Law to global affairs. The early 1990s have produced attempts to institutionalize global civil society, especially in the United States and Europe.

Some scholars feel that globalization has contributed to the weakening of the abilities of the States and inter-governmental organizations to govern, especially in the economic sphere, while strengthening civil society in many countries in the world and planting the seeds for an evolving global civil society (Schechter, 1999). The democratizing function of civil society has assumed a higher profile, and NGOs have been identified as a possible point of contact with its building blocks, namely civil associations.  Coupled with these changes has been an increasing awareness among NGOs of their own potential role in the wider development picture, which as we will discuss later, has come to denote the most conspicuous face of civil society.

The process has been spurred on by the United Nations (UN), which has moved to the fore in promoting civil society as a development issue.  United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) have introduced procedures to provide voluntary associations with greater access to their systems. Assumptions about the nature of NGOs have allowed the issue of ‘access’ by the voluntary sector to dominate discussions about civil society within the UN (Whaites, 2000).

While discussing the relationship between the State, market, and civil society, in the globalization context, one of the important questions that crop up relates to just what exactly should civil society constitute. Should markets be included in the notion of civil society?  Classic Liberals tend to regard markets as crucial institutions of civil society, and contemporary Liberals see productive and commercial associations and networks as part of civil society.  By contrast, the Left emphasizes equality and democratic control over the market economy. Many are wary of the dangers of markets and separate them from civil society in their tripartite model, which incorporates the civil society, the State, and the market sector.  As a corollary, it is also debatable whether multinational firms can be regarded as part of the emerging global civil society (Baogang, 2002).

Sometimes, civil society is referred to as the third sector. The third sector concept has been developed to help distinguish non-profit NGOs from the State sector and private profit sector or to characterize what has been described as “The space that is neither government nor business, occupied by citizens who take actions responsive to their needs” (McGann and Weaver, 2000).  Civil society comprises the collectivity of those social organizations that enjoy autonomy from the State and have as one important goal among others to influence the State on behalf of their members.  A strong civil society directly supports democratic participation, ensures the rights and probity of the citizenry, and contributes towards the deepening of accountability for policy decisions.

Based on freedom of association, civil society provides a check on and a balance to the other two sectors (government and the market) via citizen societies, Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs), and other associations (Callahan, 2002, op.cit.).  Clearly, the precise boundaries of non-governmental activity are a matter of debate. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that civil society lies outside the public sector of official governance. Second, civil society is not the market, it is a non-commercial realm. No doubt, there are borderline cases, but it is generally agreed that civil society lies outside the private sector of the market economy. But again, anything that is nongovernmental or non-commercial cannot be called civil society (Scholte, 2000).

There is, thus, no agreement on the constitution of the civil society. It has been stated that the definition of civil society depends on the ‘philosophical vantage points. The structure, relationships, activities, and environment of civil society all qualify as the parameters of its definition (Rahman et al., 2000).  In the globalization context, its domain still remains hazy.  The present-day civil society has to be different from its earlier counterparts, as it does not have to so much deal with only national and regional problems. It has to now adjust itself to the global influences that come not in the form of ‘choices’ but ‘diktats’.  The overlapping of market, State, and civil society boundaries may conflate the purpose of civil society, which appears to have reemerged with a defined agenda of an enabler and a facilitator.

Additional Notes:

The relationship among the state, market, and civil society is a fundamental aspect of the organization and functioning of societies. These three entities interact and influence each other in various ways, shaping the dynamics of governance, the economy, and civil life. Here is an overview of their relationships:

State and Market:

  • Regulation and Governance: The state, through its legal and regulatory framework, plays a critical role in shaping and controlling the market. It enforces rules, standards, and regulations that govern business practices, trade, and consumer protection. Government agencies and bodies oversee markets to ensure fair competition and prevent monopolistic or exploitative practices.
  • Public Services: The state provides essential public services, such as education, healthcare, transportation, and infrastructure, which may complement or compete with private sector services. The state can also intervene in markets to correct market failures or address public goods and externalities.
  • Fiscal and Monetary Policy: Governments use fiscal and monetary policy to manage economic stability and growth. These policies can impact market conditions, including interest rates, inflation, and taxation.
  • Economic Planning: In some systems, the state may have a more active role in economic planning, directing investments, and influencing industrial policy. This is more common in mixed economies and less so in purely market-driven or planned economies.

State and Civil Society:

  • Policy Advocacy and Influence: Civil society organizations (CSOs), such as advocacy groups, NGOs, and grassroots organizations, play a crucial role in influencing government policies and decisions. They act as a bridge between citizens and the state, advocating for various social, political, and environmental causes.
  • Watchdog and Accountability: Civil society acts as a check on the power of the state, holding it accountable for its actions and policies. CSOs can monitor government activities, expose corruption, and push for transparency and good governance.
  • Service Delivery: Civil society organizations may also provide services that complement or substitute for state-provided services, especially in areas where the government’s reach is limited.

Market and Civil Society:

  • Philanthropy and Social Responsibility: Some businesses and individuals in the market engage in philanthropic activities or corporate social responsibility initiatives, supporting civil society organizations and social causes. This can enhance the well-being of communities and address social issues.
  • Advocacy and Activism: Civil society often engages in activism and advocacy to influence market behavior. For example, consumer movements may pressure companies to adopt ethical practices, and environmental groups may campaign for sustainable business practices.
  • Social Entrepreneurship: Some organizations operate at the intersection of civil society and the market. Social enterprises combine market-oriented approaches with a focus on social or environmental impact, addressing social issues while sustaining themselves financially.

The relationships among the state, market, and civil society are dynamic and can vary significantly based on the political and economic system of a particular country or region. Different approaches to these relationships can be seen in market-driven capitalist economies, social democracies, command economies, and various hybrid models. Balancing the interests and interactions among these three sectors is a key challenge in governance and societal development.




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