Accepted paper:

Decolonizing civic space through the politics of (un)civic agency


Alan Fowler (University of Witswatersrand)
Kees Biekart (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Civic space appears to be displacing the concept of civic agency in ways that depoliticise development discourse. Bringing, once again, politics back in to development analysis can benefit from civic space being critically scrutinised from the perspective of civic-driven change.

Paper long abstract:

Many parts of the world show a tendency for governing regimes and their non-state affiliates to selectively limit the individual and collective scope of citizens to advocate for their interests. The issues and forces involved are more complex than those captured by the concept of 'shrinking civic space' which seems to reconfirm a western model of governance and development as the global norm. It can be observed that in some countries, civic space is being selectively reconfigured to legitimise authoritarian populism: Philippines, Nicaragua, Brazil. Others show a propensity to reshape the room for civic agency towards a renaissance of nationalism, often with appeals to empires of the past: Orban in Hungary to the Habsburg empire; and Erdogan in Turkey to the Ottoman empire. Our comparative treatment of countries will use the lenses of civic driven change (CDC) to analyse the extent to which, as currently understood and deployed, civic space provides an adequate political reading of the processes involved. Doing so will also apply critical perspectives of epistemicide to gauge interpretations of and investments in civic space within the repertoire of international development cooperation.

panel G2
What does changing civic space mean for development?