Working Group 10: New Civil Society Spaces and their Limits in the Global South

Eija Ranta, University of Helsinki (
Wolfram Schaffar (
Tiina Kontinen, University of Jyväskylä (

Citizens’ activism and civil society spaces are increasingly challenged, and the limits of liberal democracy are tested in many parts of the world. Restricting the allocation of funds to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), silencing activists, journalists and researchers through legislative changes, and co-opting labor unions, peasant organizations and indigenous movements to governing regimes are examples of the pressure exerted on the freedoms of civil society in the global South, and increasingly also in the global North. Increasing authoritarianism, intensifying global extractivism, and changing landscape of the global development architecture – the latter referring to the expansion of the role of private sector in development cooperation and the influence of the resource rush by the emerging economies, such as China, India and Brazil – challenge our contemporary definitions and understandings of what civil society is and does, and how we can do research on it. Furthermore, spaces of civil society are not increasingly challenged solely by state and corporate actors, but also by such groups as ethnonationalists, pro-government shock-troops, and internet trolls that act ‘inside’ and as part of civil society. State-society-corporate -boundaries have become very blurred and perplex.

This working group seeks papers that address in a critical and interdisciplinary ways plural forms and practices of civil society and its multiple articulations with state and corporate actors in the face of increasing authoritarianism, global extractivism, and changing global development architecture. It explores both the mechanisms and processes through which spaces for civil society are being shrank worldwide, and new possibilities for the emergence and development of new transformative alternatives and autonomous activism. The working group is interested in the new theoretical and conceptual elaborations and rethinking of the concepts of civil society, citizenship, activism, autonomy, self-determination, and transformative alternatives.

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