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Reclaiming the “Third Sector” from “Civil Society”: A New Agenda for Development Studies: Article Review

Nada Malakani
2019 / 4 / 6

Reclaiming the “Third Sector” from “Civil Society”: A New Agenda for Development Studies

Studies Author(s): Jocelyn Viterna, Emily Clough and Killian Clarke Source: Sociology of Development, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 173-207 Published by: University of California Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525 /sod.2015.1.1.173 . Accessed: 22/05/2015 13:28

This article is an epistemological contribution to the civil society conceptualizing in empirical studies. The authors aim to present a critical view on both normative notion and -function-al analysis of civil society. Then, they suggest a solution to help researchers in shifting from conceptual level to the level of building a general knowledge about the subject matter. This solution is a structural concept of civil society in terms of third sector. The study focuses on humanitarian NGOs because they have become central to development researches since the era of neo-liberalism in 1990s.
The literature on civil society shows that the notion is getting more and more omnibus due to the scholarly tendency to combine all dimensions of civil society (civility, democratizing, and CSOs) in a single conceptual package.. What and who are included in the concept becomes more ambiguous. For example, when many researchers conceptualize civil society in terms of its democratizing -function-, they don’t pay analytical attention to some other organizations which are supposed to be non-democratizing- these are religious associations. Therefore, the authors suggest reclaiming third sector from civil society. According to the author, third sector is neither normative nor -function-al. In other words, it is a value-neutral concept instead of a value-laden notion. Doing so, the article differentiates between normative concept and structural one. Normatively, “An idealized theoretical space in which societal actors come together for discussion and produce shared normative values relating to our evolving ideas about civility” is civil society. Structurally, third sector is “the sector of organized human action composed of collective actors beyond the family and distinct from the state and the market”. Historically, Gramsci was the first scholar who determined civil society as non-state and non- market space. However, the concept was still studied in a single package (civility, democratizing, actors) which didn’t take into consideration the importance of specifying concept in more analytical useful way. The 1970s and 1980s, the authors argue, were the turning point for civil society scholarship. For both Latin American and Eastern European intellectuals, structural analysis of civil society (intermediary association), normative understanding (rehabilitation of civic values), and -function-al notion (democratizing) were combined.
When neo-liberalism launched, the discourse on third sector has become notable-;- particularly the discussion on humanitarian NGOs. The article focuses on them because they constitute the new face of civil society in development studies-;- suggesting that structural concept helps to understand how they interact with each other and with market and state. This type of NGOs has emerged as third sector which can fill the gap left by state when it withdraws from service provision sector. In this sense, they are discussed as actors which replace their advocacy work with service provision to participate in developmental policies.
In conclusion, we should pay attention that the article doesn’t undermine the importance of normative and -function- dimensions of CSOs, rather it suggest structural analysis in order to understand both normative and -function- faces. For instance, value- neutrality enables researcher to avoid presupposing of positive linkage between civil society and democracy. When researchers operationalize civil society into third sector, they can have an open eye on undemocratic practice of some CSOs. Moreover, civil society is still a normative guide in the research as space of civility and discursive actions, but exploring it should avoid abstraction.




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