2. CISTAS konference 23. og 24. maj

A key characteristic of the liberal democratic state is the assumption that state and society are separated into two different distinctive spheres. Since the 1980s we can observe that in public discourse 'society' has become bifurcated into two new distinct spheres: market and civil society.

With the collapse of the communist regimes in USSR and Eastern Europe, it was generally assumed that liberal democracy as it had developed in many parts of the Western world would be the only legitimate and doable model of governance for the future.

Now that the dream of a statist route to emancipation was dead, "civil society" would fill the role as a civilizing element that could control states and markets, keep democracy vibrant and secure a vigorous development of society sensitive to existing patterns of domination and discrimination. Also in several Western states civil society came back on the agenda most notably in UK and US as an attempt to find a new institutional set-up which partly could integrate the increasing pluralistic societies and partly could give citizens more choice but at the same time maintain solidarity across society. At the same time it was an attempt to push for some democratization by suggesting devolvement of power to voluntary associations.

Today, however, we are situated in an entirely different political, economic, and ideological context and this has had severe implications for civil society.
Does the current context require new theories of civil society? Can “civil society” still be understood as a decisive resource for civilizing processes with respect to political, economic and cultural developments? Or does “civil society” rather represent a conservative, impotent or even destructive factor in this regard? Do we need other concepts and perspectives? How and why has the relationship between state and civil society changed? How do we conceptualize and understand the dynamics between state, market and civil society and the production of the lines of demarcation between them? Thus civil society has become a contested concept and it seems to be accepted among scholars that civil society is a much more complex phenomena. Consequently, it is urgent to rethink civil society and this is the key purpose of this conference.

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