Working Paper 63

Civil Society and Social Cohesion - a reassessment

Robert Layton

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Wokring Paper 63

Civil society can usefully be defined as 'social organisations occupying the space between the household and the state that enable people to co-ordinate their management of resources and activities'. The paper argues against the view that the Capitalist market economy is uniquely conducive to the creation of civil society. It shows that Locke and Ferguson, the originators of the concept, regarded civil society as much more widely applicable, associating it with social co-operation based on rational self-interest in all human societies. Historical and recent, non- Western examples are given in support of Locke and Ferguson's position. Civil society may support or undermine the unity of the nation state, depending on historical circumstances. The paper traces the origin of current characterisations of civil society to the political agendas of those who debated the English agricultural enclosures that took place between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I argue that the currently popular usage of tthe term 'civil society' is unhelpful to the general understanding of social dynamics.

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