Civil Society and the State: Is the time of the third sector as a bearer of citizen interests now over? Civil society, the third sector and protest movements after the financial crisis of 2008/09

Nick Acheson, Rachel Laforest

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    A notable trend in many countries in the aftermath of the recent economic crisis has been the deconstruction of previous patterns of collective representation through the adoption of consumer models of citizenship and the incorporation of civil society into a market organized delivery system of public welfare (Lister, 2010) accompanied by a delegitimising of interest group representation (Laforest, 2013) and a privatisation of public space. Emerging evidence suggests that partnerships are being replaced by growing hybridization of third sector organisations in public service delivery and the emergence of another wave of social movements and protest organisations outside of formal politics (Davies, 2011; Geoghegan and Powell, 2009; Kirby, 2010; Powell, 2013). Comparative research on the range of responses in social policy suggests that governments have responded differentially depending on the degree of exposure to the international banking crisis and on the relative role of the state and civil society in their welfare regimes (Farnsworth and Irving, 2011), but pressure from global financial markets and the growing power of transnational corporations have nevertheless left governments with limited room for manoeuvre and established a recognizable pattern of intensifying neoliberal reform (Klein, 2007; Crouch, 2011). We find an emerging welfare regime that is recasting TSOs as just another way of delivering public services while at the same time reformulating citizens as consumers in a welfare market, undermining the collective representation of interests (Clarke et al, 2008). Questions of ‘what’ and ‘how’ are replacing questions of ‘who’ and ‘why’ (Acheson and Laforest, 2013). Governments increasingly seek out partners not for who they are, but for what they can do. The process is fundamentally challenging long-standing assumptions about the role of organizations within civil society as intermediaries between citizen and state, who collectivities of citizens represent, and the extent of their recognition in formal political and public space. A key concern for scholars is tracing the dimensions of these changes as they impact on citizen engagement in the production of welfare. In these emerging post recession welfare systems, the core questions that this panel addresses concern how the future of a shared civil society identity as the bearer of citizen interests is defended and negotiated among a multitude of various and competing interests in ways that protect and enhance citizen engagement in relations with state structures. New tools are required to understand and map this process of deconstruction currently underway on a comparative basis. We need to make the links between changing configurations of power and welfare regime adjustments, and the reconstruction of a civil society identity, that protects citizen interests in the face of inexorable pressures (Evers, 2013). In the face of the marketisation of services and the commodification of citizenship a core question addressed in the panel is whether the time of the third sector as a collective bearer of citizen interests is now over with civil society moving outside of formal politics in the form of protest movements.The papers in this panel address these questions from a variety of theoretical perspectives and national contexts. Acheson and Laforest’s paper draws on evidence from Ontario and Northern Ireland, where neoliberal reforms have been particularly far reaching; to show how third sector agencies use narratives of dispossession to protect their identities as mission-driven while acting in ways that tend to reinforce the changes they complain about. The paper asks where the spaces for resistance are to be found. Powell’s paper addresses this question by shifting the focus to the implications of the social movements that have emerged since the 2008 banking collapse. It argues that the movements that emerged in democracies in particular suggest that civil society is being reconfigured in a discursive realm outside of politics and formal relations with state structures. Ketola’s paper provides further empirical grounding in its discussion of the “Geysi Park protests” in Istanbul in summer 2013. Drawing on a comparison with the Occupy movement in Western Europe and North America, the paper aims to unpack the ideational and practical characteristics of the Gezi Park protests to analyse these events in the light of authoritarian state response. Taylor’s paper returns to the role of third sector agencies in representing citizen interests. Drawing on theories of governmentability and the commodification of citizenship in market-driven welfare systems to address evidence of change in England, it discusses how understanding the sector as a “tension field” between community, market and state nonetheless acknowledges the potential for actors to continually negotiate spaces for action.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
    PublisherIrish Society for Theatre Research
    Number of pages0
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 24 Jul 2014
    EventInternational Society for Third Sector Research - Muenster, Germany
    Duration: 24 Jul 2014 → …


    ConferenceInternational Society for Third Sector Research
    Period24/07/14 → …


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