Sub-theme 03: [SWG] Cords and Discords in Civil Society

Liv Egholm
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Michael Meyer
WU Vienna, Austria
Gemma Donnelly-Cox
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Call for Papers

“It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.”
Miles Davis

Civil society, with its many organizations, is often understood and portrayed as a dynamic and vibrant part of our societies, leading up to, for example, the assumption that civil society and its many initiatives and various organizations are a powerhouse for the future development of society as a whole. Concepts and phenomena like social enterprise, social innovation, social entrepreneur and social impact all herald ways in which scholars and decision makers alike are trying to get a grip on and come to terms with new, emerging, or transforming civil society terrains.
Taken together, these features highlight the process character of changing relations and/or renegotiated borders between civil society and actors from the other institutional spheres in society (Egholm & Kaspersen, 2020), such as government (local as well as national), informal and formal organizing (Hooghe Vissers et al., 2010), corporate/business community, individuals, and the household sector. Currently, we see a growing interest in re-invigorating what may be identified as past organizing forms, e.g. cooperatives (Mair & Rathert, 2019), charitable institutions (Egholm, 2021; Sevelsted, 2018), and private-public partnerships (Vecchi & Casalini, 2019), in ways suitable for today’s challenges.
Temporal developments in civil society are often characterized by severe discords, conflicts, and hardships. Amongst them, the recent COVID-19 crisis is illuminating which kinds of CSOs and civic engagements contribute to stability and resilience, and which are more likely to unsettle society. However, discords are not necessarily nasty slips in the temporality of organization. They may also inspire great innovation. For example, Keith Jarrett’s legendary Köln Concert in 1975 grew from his forced improvisation on a faulty grand piano. The problems were so severe that he was on the brink of cancelling the concert. Instead, Jarrett´s impressive skills and forced improvisations produced a jazz triumph. In the COVID-19 crises, we can witness similar inventiveness. While social distancing hampered traditional organizational forms, skill and improvisation propelled nascent organizing forms (Evers & Von Essen, 2019, Hustinx & Lammertyn, 2003) to meet new challenges. Rather than being problematic, discords between different temporalities may be a source of the defining power and innovative potential of CSOs and civic engagement. “It is the succession of notes and silences that constitutes music, just as the succession of doubts, beliefs, and processes of inquiry shapes intellectual life and the succession of problems, deliberations, and actions configures our practical life” (Peirce, 1878).
In this particular sub-theme on discords of organizing in the future and past of civil society the convenors want to further explore four rather different strings of temporality and process within the overall on-going process of how civil society is being re-organized:

  • Resilience. How do civil society institutions become ‘enduring’ or ‘resilient’? (Egholm, 2019). Which temporal qualities are used to keep them stable (Weik, 2019; Pentland et al., 2020)? How can CSOs contribute to resilient ecosystems, e.g. in urban communities?

  • Recycling. How are past civil society organizing forms and practices being re-introduced, re-invented and re-negotiated into the present (Preece, 2014)? How does their “past-ness” ensure or endanger their legitimacy and plea for innovation? How do CSOs re-use practices from other parts of the globe or other events in history?

  • Reinvigoration. How do the – active and intentional as well as more implicit – uses of the past and history (Suddaby & Foster, 2017; Wadhwani et al., 2018) within CSOs become a vibrant resource for creating new societal futures and innovations aimed for our contemporary or even future societies?

  • Resynchronization. How do different velocities, rhythms and levels of CSOs and civic engagement work as dynamic stabilization? How do the “de-synchronizations” (Rosa, 2019; Dart et al., 2019) of, for example, digital communities, depopulation of the countryside and smart cities challenge the innovative potential of discords? How can CSOs, e.g. in urban areas, re-synchronize their activities with public authorities and local communities, and how do they handle discords?

For this year's sub-theme of the EGOS Standing Working Group (SWG) 03 on civil society, we would like to invite contributions which both critically examine the basic assumptions introduced above, and those papers in which the authors attempt to develop and substantiate such claims or ideas, either through in-depth empirical studies or through more theory-driven accounts.


  • Dart, R., Akingbola, O., Allen, K. (2019): “Nonprofit adaptation and variation in changing contexts: The speciation of shared platform organizations.” Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research, 10 (1), 26–40.
  • Egholm, L. (2019): ”Complicated translations. Philanthropic endeavours of pollution and purification in Denmark 1920–2014.” In: J. Alexander, A. Voyer & A. Lund (eds.): Civil Sphere and the Nordic Countries. Cambridge: Polity Press, 64–94.
  • Egholm, L. (2021): “Practicing the common good: Philanthropic practices in twentieth-century Denmark.” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 34 (2), 237–252.
  • Egholm, L., & Kaspersen, L.B. (2020): “A processual-relational approach to civil society.” In: L. Egholm & L.B. Kaspersen (eds.): Civil Society: Between Concepts and Empirical Grounds. London: Routledge, 3–30.
  • Evers, A., & von Essen, J. (2019): “Volunteering and Civic Action: Boundaries Blurring, Boundaries Redrawn.” Voluntas, 30, 1–14.
  • Hooghe, M., Vissers, S., Stolle, D., & Maheo, V.-A. (2010): “The Potential of Internet Mobilization: An Experimental Study on the Effect of Internet and Face-to-Face Mobilization Efforts.” Political Communication, 27 (4), 406–431.
  • Hustinx, L., & Lammertyn, F. (2003): “Collective and reflexive styles of volunteering: A sociological modernization perspective.” Voluntas, 14 (2), 167–187.
  • Mair, J., & Rathert, N. (2019): “Alternative organizing with social purpose: revisiting institutional analysis of market-based activity.” Socio-Economic Review, 19 (2), 817–836.
  • Peirce, C.S. (1878): “How to Make Our Ideas Clear.” Popular Science Monthly, 12, 286–302.
  • Pentland, B.T., Mahringer, C.A., Dittrich, K., Feldman, M.S., & Wolf, J.R. (2020): “Process Multiplicity and Process Dynamics: Weaving the Space of Possible Paths.” Organization Theory, 1 (3),
  • Preece, S.B. (2014): “Social bricolage in arts entrepreneurship: Building a jazz society from scratch.” Artivate, 3 (1), 23–34.
  • Sevelsted, A. (2018): “Protestant Ethics-In-Action : The Emergence of Voluntary Social Work in Copenhagen 1865–1915.” European Journal of Sociology, 59 (1), 121–149.
  • Suddaby, R., & Foster, W.M. (2017): “History and Organizational Change.” Journal of Management, 43 (1), 19–38.
  • Rosa, H. (2019): Resonance: A Sociology of Our Relationship to the World. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Vecchi, V., & Casalini, F. (2019): “Is a Social Empowerment of PPP for Infrastructure Delivery Possible? Lessons from Social Impact Bonds.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 90 (2), 353–369.
  • Wadhwani, R., Suddaby, R., Mordhorst, M., & Popp, A. (2018): “History as Organizing: Uses of the Past in Organization Studies.” Organization Studies, 39 (12), 1663–1683.
  • Weik, E. (2019): “Understanding Institutional Endurance: The Role of Dynamic Form, Harmony, and Rhythm in Institution.” Academy of Management Review, 44 (2), 321–335.


Liv Egholm is Associate Professor at Department of Management, Philosophy and Politic (MPP) at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark; Director of CBS’s Centre for Civil Society Studies (CfC); and currently the PI of the Carlsberg-funded ”Civil Society in the Shadow of the State” (CISTAS), a Tuborg grant on self-organized communities, democratic management and social media.
Michael Meyer is Professor of Nonprofit Management at WU Vienna, Austria, where he is the Head of the Institute for Nonprofit Management and the Competence Center for NPOs and Social Entrepreneurship. He is also a member of the Civic Life of Cities Lab at the Stanford Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society, USA.
Gemma Donnelly-Cox is Assistant Professor of Business (Organization Theory) at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, where she is the Co-Director of the Centre for Social Innovation. In 2017–18, she was a visiting scholar at the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business, University College Dublin.