Can civil society be free of the natural state? applying north to Bangladesh

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The discussion about civil society in countries like Bangladesh is a little surreal. Are we complicit in seeking to analyze institutions in a society through false lenses, through constructs which have been developed in the context of other societies, at other times, far away? Is the concept of civil society the appropriate device for observing civil society in a society where the concept is not embedded in its values and political culture? One response to such questions is that we need to develop analytic concepts which are relative to specific conditions and that therefore, we need to be relativist. Thus we might refer to the notion of the Ummah as blurring a distinction between state and civil society, enabling theocratic rather than democratic government and governance. However, an opposing response is that such relativism removes all prospect of judgment about what is good for citizens so that if the Taliban are the true representatives of Afghan values and culture, then it does not matter that they oppress women. That is not a good position or place to be in, analytically. Thus we need some comparative framework which both captures the intrinsic or ontological essence of institutional practice, while enabling us to situate a society against some universal principles of human rights and entitlements. Our suggestion is that the recent book Violence and Social Orders by North, Wallis, and Weingast (2009) is seminal in providing this comparative framework which facilitates sensitive contextual analysis alongside the possibility of judgment.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCivil Society in Asia
Subtitle of host publicationIn Search of Democracy and Development in Bangladesh
EditorsF. Quadir, Y. Tsujinaka
Place of PublicationAldershot, U. K.
PublisherAshgate Publishing
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9781472423313
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2015


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