Sub-theme 62: (Re-)Producing Civil Society through Organizational Practices

Liv Egholm
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Filip Wijkström
Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden
Michael Meyer
WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria

Call for Papers

Civil society is mostly seen as a distinct sector defined by social movements, NGOs, philanthropic and other non-governmental, voluntary and nonprofit organizations with actors expected to create social capital (Putnam, 1995; 2000), contribute to democracy (De Tocqueville, 1969 [1835]; Zimmer, 2007) and a range of other functions in society. They are conceived as based on a distinct societal logic (cf. Wijkström 2011), and belonging to a distinct sector other than state, market or family, often expected to function as a counterforce or alternative to public sector, family, or market-based solutions.
The sub-theme on Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) challenges this understanding and ask: How do the organizational practices of CSOs produce and carve out the space we identify as civil society? Which specific versions and visions of civil society – and of society – does these images promote? How are these constructs mobilized and called upon to handle a number of different tasks – organizational and other – at different levels? We encourage our contributors to surprise us by introducing various perspectives (e.g., the mature welfare state, economies in transition) and issue fields (e.g. refugee crisis, global warming, and unemployment) and by analyzing the civil society of organizations rather than presenting the organizations of civil society (Abbott, 1995).
The subtle shifts in balance between state, market, and family visible across the world somehow contribute to and pave the way for strong waves that have both surprised and shocked us recently: neo-nationalism, the rise of populism; predatory corporate behavior; the crisis of the welfare state and the disruption of traditional family patterns. These jolts lead to unforeseen cultural clashes between groups of people, open up for attacks on the state, and question democratic ideals and civil rights. Political and research-based answers to these new and surprising challenges and tensions often point to civil society and its organizations as part of the solution. Expecting the CSO’s bridging or breaking down of earlier institutional barriers or borders as an important feature. To which degree do the new, old or changing practices of civil society (re)produce traditional boundaries and borders between civil society, state, market and family? What are the short-term and long-term consequences and effects of this?
A long line of scholars (e.g. Alexander, 2006; Bode, 2006; Enjolras, 2009; Evers, 2009; Clemens & Guthrie, 2011; Eliasoph, 2012; Lichterman & Eliasoph, 2014; Perez- Dias, 2014; Lilja, 2015), have called for more agency-inspired and culture-oriented approaches to the study of civil society and its organizations. The everyday enactment, evaluation and production of boundaries between different spheres, and the way of defining what is the core or essence of civil society has moved into the centre of analyses (Alexander, 2006; Lichterman & Eliasoph, 2014, pp. 851–852; Perez-Dias, 2014, p. 823). These differentiated takes on civil society direct our attention towards the processes of producing and constructing civil society from an empirical approach, stressing the interrelated components of how civil society and its domains are carved by organizations.

Emphasizing activities and organizational practices (re)producing the issue fields and boundaries of civil society is – we believe – a promising point of departure, opening up for analytical surprises. It acknowledges the multitude of interconnected practices in different contexts and opens for new – maybe unexpected – lines of inquiry. For this call, we emphasize that civil society and its manifold actors should be studied as a historical and empirical category instead of being taken for-granted a priori.
The sub-theme aims to shed light on these set of themes, approaches and questions by inviting both conceptual and empirical contributions on the production of civil society through organizational practices.



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Liv Egholm is Associate Professor at Department of Business and Politics at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. She is currently the co-leader of the CISTAS project (Civil Society in the Shadow of the State), funded by the Carlsberg Foundation. Her research interests concern philanthropic gift-giving, legitimation processes, practise theory, pragmatism and the blurred and messiness between civil society, state and market.
Filip Wijkström is Associate Professor at the Department of Management & Organization and director of Stockholm Center for Civil Society Studies at the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden. His research interests concern CSOs in different fields of society and governance and strategy.
Michael Meyer is Professor at the Department of Management and the head of the Institute for Nonprofit Management at Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria. His research interests concern managerialism in NPOs, functions and participation in CSOs, civic engagement, social systems theory, and career research.