City Research Online

Civil Society

Susen, S. ORCID: 0000-0003-0643-1891 (2021). Civil Society. In: Kivisto, P. (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Social Theory. Volume II: Contemporary Theories and Issues. (pp. 379-406). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/9781316677452.020


The task of defining the concept of civil society is far from straightforward. Within the history of social and political thought, one is confronted with an abundance of conflicting and ‘competing definitions’ of this term. This lack of definitional clarity indicates that ‘[i]n the social sciences, there is no consensus as to the theoretical and empirical separation of political, economic and social relations’ (Abercrombie, Hill, and Turner, 2000: 48). It is far from obvious in which particular sphere, or set of spheres, civil society is located and on what grounds it can be distinguished from other domains of human reality. Yet, irrespective of its definitional ambiguity and referential elasticity, the concept of civil society has had–and, arguably, continues to have–a significant impact upon contemporary discourses, not only in the humanities and social sciences but also in both mainstream and alternative politics. In a general sense, civil society may be ‘best understood as a confrontation with the very possibility of society itself’ (Beyers, 2011: 3) –that is, as an intersubjectively constructed, discursively constituted, democratically organized, and publicly accessible participatory realm in which the normative parameters underpinning particular sets of social arrangements are at stake.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This material has been published in The Cambridge Handbook of Social Theory. Volume II: Contemporary Theories and Issues edited by Peter Kivisto, This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution or re-use. © the author.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
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