Since the renaissance of civil society in the course of the worldwide transitions in the 1980s, it has inevitably been linked to the concepts of democracy and democratization. Civil society is promoted as agent of change in autocratic or transitional contexts and as a source or warrantor of pluralism, tolerance, and altruism in established democracies.
Against this background, civil society organizations (CSOs) became a key actor in the field of (external) democracy promotion that since the late 1980s ”has evolved from a specialized niche into a substantial, well-institutionalized domain that affects political developments in almost every corner of the globe” (Carothers 2015: 59). CSOs have fulfilled diverse roles in this context, acting for example as sources of information and advocacy groups, consultants and partners of (international) donors, as local recipients of democracy aid programs, or donor organizations themselves.
In a context of a worldwide renaissance of authoritarianism, however, civil society’s core values have recently come under pressure. Deterioration in illiberal or hybrid regimes stands vis-à-vis a rise of populism and a ”decline of democratic efficacy, energy, and self-confidence in the West” (Diamond 2015: 251). For global civil society, this results in what has currently been discussed as ”shrinking and closing spaces.” Bureaucratic and legal restrictions, defamation, threat, or intimidation increasingly restrict civil society organizations and activists in their democratic-participatory work and impact. The free articulation and representation of interests, information and education about controversial topics, integrative work and service provision for vulnerable people come under threat. At the same time, autocratic leaders seem to be eager to incorporate or co-opt CSOs according to their own mind and purposes, creating and nourishing their own loyal branch of CSOs.
Furthermore, a neo-conservative turn in traditional democracies is giving a boost to right-wing, sometimes hardly democratically-minded discourses, movements, and organizations which offer alignment, meaning and orientation for a growing number of citizens.
The seminar aims at analyzing these developments and their impact on (the future of) civil society and external democracy promotion.
The first part of the seminar will deal with the key concepts - civil society, democracy promotion, democratization studies - their historical evolution and current expressions, and introduce to the debate about shrinking spaces.
The second part of the seminar will then spotlight practitioners’ perspectives and up-to-date developments in different countries. Studying selected actors and programs we will discuss the challenges for civil society and democracy promotion in times of democratic backsliding, populism and rising neo-conservatism.
Requirements for a Studienleistung:
1) Participants have to provide a short input (Referat) in one session. The input will be based on the reader assignments posed on LearnWeb.
2) Participants have to either research the situation of civil society in one non-democratic country or to analyze the work of a private or party foundation in the international arena
Requirement for a Prüfungsleistung: An essay discussing one specific topic related to the course work
Carothers, T. (2002). The End of the Transition Paradigm. Journal of Democracy, 13:1: 5-21.
Cavatorta, F. (2013). Civil Society Activism under Authoritarian Rule. A Comparative Perspective. Oxford: Routledge.