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GOVT-542 Civil Society in Transitioning Countries and Emerging Democracies
Fall for 2014-2015
Faculty:
  • El-Shazli, Heba
  • Is Civil Society the panacea that will lead transitioning countries to democracy? Is civil society the entity that will “speak truth to power” quoting Edward Said? While Charles Tilly [Social Movements, 1768–2004 (2004)] defines social movements as a series of contentious performances, displays and campaigns by which ordinary people make collective claims on others. For Tilly, social movements are a major vehicle for ordinary people's participation in public politics. So the relationship of ordinary people in civil society and active in social movements are connected. Can ordinary people through civil society and social movements make real tangible change? Are social movements the engine for civil society organizations to challenge the status quo?

    Civil society associated with transition and democracy has been in fashion since the 1980s with the emergence of the Solidarity Movement in Poland. It is a term that is considered an empty (floating) signifier and does not have a particular grounding or reference. There are multiple ways of thinking about civil society which actually can be useful – why? It brings different meanings together with differing political theories which then allow us to have a conversation. Civil society and governance has also become more in fashion due to the crisis of the state withdrawing from the public services sphere. States have been adopting more neo-liberal economic policies, more public-private partnerships and outsourcing of some of its basic services and functions expecting civil society to step in. How does this relate to transitioning countries and emerging democracies? What role (positive/negative) have civil society organizations played in those countries? Also, there is a need to examine the role of civil society or how it has developed under authoritarian regimes.

    This course will examine several issues: First, to set the stage for our in-depth
    discussions, we will start with the origins of civil society: meaning and history of civil society and its organizations grounded in theory and practice. Second, we will discuss the evolution and development of civil society as the “third sector” with state and the market (economy) or in other words: civil society and modernity. Third, we will spend a good portion of the course discussing the role of civil society in democracy, good governance and in the emerging democracies (past and present). The case study method will be used for this section of the course where we will examine several case
    studies (at least one from each continent) to discuss the basic question of the role of civil society in transitioning countries and emerging democracies.

    This course will also examine the emergence, activities, and impact of social movements around the world. Social movements are global and broad ranging, from movements that advocate for more nutritious meals in schools to those demanding the overthrow of governments. Many people for a variety of reasons are part of social movements.
    The course will focus on a number of key questions and themes:

    • How and why do social movements form?

    • What is the relationship between social movements, civil society, and wider forms of contentious politics?

    • Why do individuals participate in social movements?

    • How do institutional settings change the way social movements behave?

    • Why do some social movements adopt violence and others remain peaceful?

    • Why do some social movements stay local while others become national or even transnational?

    To answer these questions, we will move between developing broader theories about social movements and examining specific case studies. The task is to learn how to analyze evidence and theories, to read significant academic literature, and to write about them in an effective and efficient manner.
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisites: None
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