The end of the Cold War brought an old concept and
vocabulary of civil society into the forefront of international development.
Civil society gained renewed prominence from within processes associated with
the disintegration of the Soviet Union (Siegel and Yancey, 1992).5 It
has since become an organizing framework and pivotal element in a new
development agenda for this decade (Robinson, 1994). This ancient "city" concept
has been reconstructed and deconstructed in a virtual industry of academic
studies and donor-oriented publications, including civic "atlases" (CIVICUS,
1997). This paper does not analyse what the concept means to different
observers, relevant references can be found in the footnotes.6 Of
importance is that the aid system has closely associated civil society with its
political and social development objectives. It is therefore necessary to see
how the concept has been interpreted. In addition, we need to understand what
NGDOs are in relation to a social development agenda as part of civil society.
These tasks form the core of this section.
5 It could be argued that an appreciation
of the emergence of citizen's organizations and their significance as
development actors preceded the Soviet implosion. Some observers had already
pointed to a barefoot revolution (Schneider, 1988), others talk of an "emerging
sector" (Salamon and Anheier, 1998a).
6 An array of explanations and
interpretations of civil society (and NGDOs) is to be found. Key-texts are:
Blaney and Pasha, 1993; Gellner, 1994; Kumar, 1993; Lipshutz, 1992; Wood, 1990.
Useful texts on the relationship between civil society, development and the aid
system are: Bernard et al., 1998; Biekart, 1999; van Rooy, 1997; Whaltes, 1998.
There is an ongoing debate about whether or not market actors are "civic".
Although not resolved, the implicit notion in donor approaches is of "modular"
or free citizens in a modernized economy. This perspective is of little
relevance for the world's poor. They know little distinction between their
economic and non-economic selves as landless labourers, petty traders, hawkers
and beggars. They do not "detach" themselves from citizenship when they work for
subsistence and re-enter civil society when they stop. Erring on the side of
caution and inclusion would suggest including all non-state actors within civil
society. This has not been the definition used in this study, but the issue
requires more debate and clarity if poverty reduction is a central goal of
social development. For our purposes, civil society can be understood as the
realm of citizen's informal and formal private association to pursue
non-economic interests and