Welcome to CISTAS

The Civil Society in the Shadow of the State

Directed by professor Lars Bo Kaspersen (University of Copenhagen) and Associate Professor Liv Egholm (Copenhagen Business school)

June 2014 - June 2019.

The Civil Society in the Shadow of the State (CISTAS) project analyses the Danish civil society, historically, sociologically and politically, raising these questions; what role has civil society had in the development of the modern state and the welfare state? What role does civil society play today and what role will it play in the future? The project is based on four theses:

1. The state is not the opposite of the civil society, it provides the conditions for the existence of a civil society.

2. Civil society is a political contested concept, which during time change and are ascribed different characteristics and roles. 

3. Civil society can contribute to both social cohesion and social disintegration of society through civil society´s organisational forms and democratic practices

4. The emergence, use and practices of the Danish civil society represent particular social, historical and political characteristics.


The theses will be analysed through seven sub projects:

1. Civil society and associative democracy. Here the importance of civil society organisations and associations for democratic learning, democratic practice and democratic culture in the period from 1820 to 2014 are analysed to discuss the possibility of a revitalisation of civil society’s democratic potential in Denmark.

2. Civil society and philanthropy. This project examines how philanthropic concepts established different logic and constellations between state, market and civil society in the period from 1849 to 2014. It does so through an investigation of concepts from both the political and civil society spheres as an expression of networks in which diverse knowledge, objectives and results are bound together and influence the contemporary understanding of civil society.

3. Civil society and voluntarism. This project will, with a historical case-based study as a starting point, map out the extent of voluntariness in  the Danish civil society and focus on its logics and practices to investigate how the logic behind voluntariness and the participation of volunteers is constantly challenged.

4. Danish civil society in a comparative perspective. The socio-historical and political-legal development of Danish civil society is compared with that of Norway and Sweden in order to determine the specific characteristics of Danish civil society.

5. Good and bad civil society. Civil society is a contested concept and a discursive struggle over what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ civil society is constantly taking place – and raises the question of whether it is that; which supports the state, or that which criticizes it? Through different cases from the 1970´ies of, the project investigate which types of CS activity respectively strengthen and weaken social capital and trust, and how a strengthening of CS paradoxically can result in a weakening of social capital and thus also social cohesion.

6. Civil society and social trust/global civil society. The project grounds the question of global civil society in an interrogation of how national civil society actors negotiate transnational political space. This process of negotiation defines if, to what extent and how a semblance of a global civil society can be identified. The project specifically traces how a variety of civil society actors connect to propel shared visions of what the role of international law should be, and how it must be enacted to accommodate humanitarian values and concepts of human security and rights.

7. Civil society and organizational formsThe project will study civil society and its different organizational forms. Asking questions about; Which forms of organizations have dominated the development of the Danish civil society? What role does the organizational form play for the outcome of social cohesion and social disintegration of society? What sort of organizational forms do we find today? Do we find organizational innovation in particular areas of civil society? Do we find organizations carrying new democratic practices? Are they characterized by a particular organization form? Does their success depend on their form of organization? These questions and many others can be asked in relation to civil society and organizational forms.

8. EcoLabSS – Ecovillages as Laboratories of Sustainability and Social Change. Ecovillages as Laboratories of Sustainability and Social Change´ (EcoLabSS) is conceived as an international, intersectoral and interdisciplinary project aiming at producing a theoretically grounded and methodologically innovative study of specific grassroots initiatives: the ecovillage movement. EcoLabSS provides a multi-level and mixed method study of the ecovillage movement that combines the comparative study of two local ecovillages, respectively in Denmark and Italy, with a systematic analysis of the actions and networks of the transnational organization Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

9. Democratic formation and informal youth networks. Traditionally, the Associative Democracy has been ascribed an importance as an arena which enhances democratic formation of participants and thereby strengthens social cohesion of society. However, youth engagement in Associative Democracy in Denmark is declining, while engagement in informal networks is increasing. This study aims to provide knowledge about whether this trend might be embraced without concern for social cohesion in our society, and - if not - how we may support these networks in developing democratically to contribute to such cohesion. The project explores democratic formation perceived both as civic engagement in democratic processes (vertical citizenship) and as democratic sentiment (horizontal citizenship). It also looks into inclusion and exclusion dynamics, aiming to learn more about the potential for including groups that are underrepresented in Associative Democracy in Denmark.