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Role of Civil Society and Its Limitations

Manjrika Sewak

Edited by Raffaele marchetti  and Nathalie Tocci
Routledge, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 321, Rs.795.00


Conflict Society and Peacebuilding: Comparative Perspectives is an edited volume of eleven essays, which explores the linkages between civil society, conflict and peace, drawing on empirical studies from regions in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. The book opens with the recognition that civil society plays a significant role in building sustainable peace and security in contexts of armed conflict, particularly those driven by identity and located within states. The central space that it has come to occupy in peacebuilding discourse is based on the fact that individuals and groups, from a variety of backgrounds, have demonstrated their skills and expertise in this area. It is now recognized that official, government-to-government interactions between instructed representatives of states are insufficient in themselves to build sustainable peace in divided societies. In this context, the book seeks to delve deeper into how civil society and government actors can partner with one an-other to increase the efficacy of peace interventions and to initiate long-term processes of conflict transformation. The editors, Raffaele Marchetti and Nathalie Tocci, note that while there is sufficient evidence to point to the positive contributions of civil society, what has perhaps received less attention is the ability of such groups to also work towards entrenching in-equitable status quos and, worse still, exacerbating conflict in already tense and fragile situations. The civil society space is not always filled with progressive politics, and collective action is not always directed towards the common good. Civil society can also be a space that fuels discord and it can be captured by vested interests. Thus, on the one hand some groups voice dissent to make democracy real and substantive, but on the other hand, some might work towards the subversion of democratic and pluralistic ideals. The authors advance the theory that the influence of civil society in a conflict situation depends on certain variables. The first is the context within which a civil society organization operates. For instance, how does the larger political context of authoritarian rule, ethnic nationalism, under-development, overbearing international presence, or a failed state affect the function and role of civil society groups? Further, how do prevailing cultural and societal beliefs influence the purpose and functions of a civil society organization, which is rooted in that society? Thematically, the chapters fall into three categories. The first category titled ‘Theoretical Reflections’ engages with the composition of civil society in the context of peace and ...

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