These are some of the core, thematic issues that social scientists are asking about civil society. If there’s an issue you think should be added, let me know through the comments or @jsradford! [These summaries will include links to posts related to these issues once they are available.]
- Good Civil Society: There are many different ways to get involved in civic activity including clubs, community organizations, professional associations, and social movements. However, not all forms of participation and types of groups are the same. It matters whether you join the PTA or the KKK. It matters whether the majority of funding goes to social service agencies, social enterprises, or social clubs. The question of what kind of society we should live in does not only entail that people participate and organizations get funded, but also what makes for a good form of participation, that is, what characterizes the quality of participation and organization.
- Professionalization of Civic Organizations: a significant trend over the past near-century is the growth of professional civic employees and bodiless, mail-order membership groups. These create barriers to entry, occupational stratification, and a de-democratization of civic participation. Simultaneously, they create new professional communities, standards, and knowledge which provide for accountability, higher productivity and innovation, and transferable skills. These have very important consequences for civic engagement, political power, and social life.
- Changing face of Civic Participation: Over the past half-century, American’s civic participation (volunteerism, philanthropy, and social networking among other things) have declined as a whole. However, different forms of participation have been increasing such as arts participation, internet-based networking, and do-it-yourself organizing. While these patterns parallel others (such as professionalization and the rise of “new” social movements) they have distinct implications for communities, politics, businesses, and civic organizations.
- “New” Social Movements: In a post-60’s political world, social movements representing LGBTQ, globalization-oriented, and environmental causes are argued to represent a “new” form of social movement and an underlying, new set of political actions and cultural orientations. The central question is are they new, particularly in what sense are they new, and, if so, what does that mean? In addition, this will be a jumping off point for dicsussing the liberal-bias in social movement research where, for the past 40 years, the field has focused on the civil rights movement, its predecessors its descendents and under-researched conservativism in America.