Will growing restrictions on liberal civil society block inclusive and equitable development or empower governments to take necessary development decisions? Are they driven by values or by greed? This panel will engage with the contradictions of changing civic space in developing countries.
The space for liberal, formal human rights-based civil society organizations, including NGOs, has narrowed markedly around the world in the past five years, even as 'uncivil', unruly, and virtual civic activism has been on the rise. Governments claim to restrict civil society and NGOs to protect national sovereignty against alien values. Civil society groups counter-claim that these are naked power struggles. Aid actors view changes in civic space as an unmitigated bad for development. But is that the whole story? How and why is civic space changing, and why now? Will these changes block inclusive, sustainable and equitable forms of development? Or insulate governments against popular discontent so they can make tough but necessary development decisions? Is the growth of rightwing, populist, violent, and apparently unorganized or leaderless civic engagement more 'authentic' than the aid-funded NGOs of the post-Cold War period? How will they affect civil society, and in particular local NGOs? To what extent is changing civic space the normative and organizational outcome of shifts in geopolitical power - in particular the rise of China, India, and Russia as counterweights to American global domination? This panel invites theoretical and empirical papers that engage with these contradictions at the heart of the problem of changing civic space in developing countries.