| By A Bebbington and S. Hickey | Published in The Elgar Companion to Development Studies, pp. 417-423. Edited by D.A. Clark. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. |
| Full text (PDF) |
Summary: Civil society has been termed ‘a notoriously slippery concept’ by more than one commentator (Bebbington and Riddell, 1995, p. 880; Edwards, 2004, p. vi), while the struggle to define the notion of nongovernmental organisations remains unfinished. Despite this, donor agencies across the spectrum have tended to hinge their ‘civil society strengthening’ programmes around capacity building support to NGOs. An important implication is that – if the meanings of both NGO and civil society are multiple and unclear – ‘civil society strengthening’ programmes implemented via NGOs are not all a cut of the same cloth. While some may aim to foster a broader and more inclusive public sphere for the exercise of democratic politics, others may be promoting a very particular form of liberal democracy coupled with particular forms of market liberalisation. Civil society and NGO are not then merely slippery concepts – they are deeply contested.