Citizenship and Civil Society in Development

Messages about shrinking civic spaces and undermining citizenship rights are continuously voiced throughout the world. The freedoms of speech and association are being restricted, and especially the organizing and mobilizing around human rights is increasingly controlled. At the same time, development policy-makers and development researchers have pointed out how the ‘civil society enthusiasm’ in development policies of the 1990s often resulted into ‘NGO-ization’ of civil society. A layer of professional organizations distant to the ideas and needs of grassroots had emerged. 

Meanwhile, funding allocated to civil society organizations is under threat with the increasing emphasis on private sector and multi-sectoral partnerships. For some time now, development discourse has started to emphasize citizen’s action and engagement rather than civil society organizations and citizenship. Human-rights-based approach to development emphasizes the capacity-building of right-holders to demand their rights.

While the focus on civil society in development research may have decreased in recent years, we argue that citizenship and civil society continue to be at the heart of academic debates when it concerns inclusive development, societal transformation, and equal societies. 

There is clearly a need for contextualized research on the dynamics of organizing and mobilizing, as well as the question of citizens’ capacities, motivations, constraints and possibilities to address joint issues and challenges. In 2023 the Working Group published the Open Access volume ‘Civil society responses to changing civic spaces’ (Palgrave), as part of the EADI Global Development Series.

The EADI working group provides a forum for bringing together different theoretical and methodological approaches, as well as a great variety of contextual expertise, in order to improve our critical understanding of citizenship and civil society in a development context.