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Civil society as a metaphor for western liberalism

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The concept of civil society has become one of the most used tools both in theoretical discussions and in policy formulations. Its aspirational content in general presents an abstract idea of people’s action without elaborating its particular applications in various contexts. This paper looks at one such context. It aims at analysing the particular usage of the concept in the development discussions by international donors/policy makers such as the World Bank. It adapts an anthropological understanding of the metaphor analysis framework to uncover the context and meaning implicit in the particular language of civil society organisations used by the World Bank and other similar agencies. It links the particular language back to the socio-political context from which it has emerged, to argue that the usage of civil society organisations in the specific context of development implies a normative rethinking of social relations within developing societies. The argument suggests that it is this normative approach to civil society which is an attempt to realign social relations within developing countries parallel to the western liberal model of social arrangements between state, market and the third sector. The paper then discusses the short term implications on already existing civil societies and long term implication on societies in general.

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