Working Group 1: Entanglements of civic space, civil society, and democracy in development



Tiina Kontinen, Associate Professor, University of Jyväskylä,
Eija Ranta, Academy of Finland Research Fellow, University of Helsinki,
Benjamin Ntoko, PhD researcher, University of Jyväskylä,


Both development policies and scholarship increasingly discuss the notion of civic space; its different meanings, manifestations, and potential ways of its protection. The debates on civic space have been accelerated with the recent observations on decline of democratization and increase in authoritarianism, both in the global North and South. Civic space is measured, for instance, based on realization of the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expressions. Additionally, it can more generally refer to a room for manoeuvre for civil society organizations and citizens; a space that is continuously shaped in interaction between civil society actors and states. States can encourage, enable, support, co-opt, restrict, constrain, guide, and control civil society actors and practices with different legal, bureaucratic, rhetorical, and violent measures. On their par, civil society actors can respond by open contestation, hidden resistance, modification, co-optation and collaboration. Additionally, in the context such as fragile states, civic space is not necessarily shaped by states, but contested among diverse groups striving for power and influence. The borders between civil and “un-civil” society characterized by violence or forced membership can be blurred. Civic space is shaped in historical contexts and influenced by the kinds of political regimes the countries have. In addition to the overall observation that civic spaces are free in liberal democracies while restricted in authoritarian regimes, more analysis of the contextual dynamics of shaping civic space, in relation to varieties of democratization and authoritarianisms are needed. 

This working group invites a wide range of conceptual and empirical explorations of civic space, civil society action, and activism in relation to development and democracy, as well as reflections on the possibilities to protect civic spaces by means of international development.


Caleb Fagade, Critical Path Leadership Initiative (CPLi): The Power of Technology: A Source of Civic Space Suppression

Taru Salmenkari, University of Helsinki: Single-issue NGOs and the rise of authoritarian populism in China

Lini Jolly, Indian Institute of Technology: Civil society and politics of contemporary environmental mobilisations in Kerala

Siwach Sripokangkul, Khon Kaen University: The Role of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) in the 2010 Suppression of the Red Shirts in Thailand

Benta N. Matunga and Ajali M. Nguyahambi, University of Dodoma: Leadership and citizenship practices: Perspectives from self-help groups in Mpwapwa District in rural Tanzania

Monju Calasanctius Matsiale, University of Buea: Contextualising the concept of civil space in rural Cameroon: an emic perspective

Edwin Tamfuh Nfor, University of Jyväskylä: Journalist’s perception of role in restoring peace and development in Cameroon’s anglophone regions

Eleonoora Karttunen, University of Eastern Finland: Politics from Ashes against the Burning Agricultural Frontier in Bolivian Chiquitania

Luciano Santander: Cracks in the neoliberal consensus and new social divisions analysis of the emergence and positioning of the extreme right in Chile