Unpacking Civiil society

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This research aims to understand the unique characteristics of the civil society in post-Apartheid South Africa by answering the following research question: To what extent is the South African civil society in line with the standard notions of the Western civil society literature and to what extent does it exhibit a unique character? During a period of three months field research in South Africa, 30 in-depth interviews were conducted with civil society actors, governmental representatives and a variety of other actors who shared their perspective on civil society. The research is guided by the assumptions of methodological individualism, which allows social phenomena to be explained through, on the one hand, the interaction of individuals and, on the other hand, the context in which these individuals are embedded. South African civil society is studied from three different angles: (1) its relationship with the state, (2) its representation of interests and (3) the strategy it uses to engage with the government. The results show that some aspects of civil society in South Africa are in line with the Western, De Tocqueville inspired civil society literature. Yet, South Africa’s civil society also exhibits characteristics that are in line with the literature from the Global South, which shows the deviance of the South African case. This thesis illustrates that civil society has to be studied in the light of historical and cultural context.
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