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By Josh McDowell; John Gilchrist

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For NGOs, in turn, institutional advocacy has fewer opportunity costs than the mobilization of publics. As a result, public voice of the NGO sector is overestimated and NGOs perform as “proxy publics”: In lieu of actually engaging their broader constituencies, the organizations themselves have become stand-ins for citizen participation and public outreach. This might look like a win-win arrangement for both governments and NGOs, but it is a losing proposition for the strengthening of late modern democracy and its publics.

They also vary depending on whether the focus is on local, national, international, or transnational arenas. 12 Moreover, various subdisciplines in the social sciences point to different roots of increases in civic activism, most obvious in the varied answers that theories of social movements, governance, globalization, and communication have to offer. Early accounts of the local and national civic organizing boom in Western societies since the 1960s focused primarily on postmaterialist values of economically affluent generations (Inglehart 1977).

A historical approach Notwithstanding recent waves of attention, civil society is not a new concept. Its oldest iteration goes back to Aristotle’s notion of societas civilis (cited in Kaldor 2003a: 23). In its modern and liberal version it is a term of the old Europe (Kocka 2006). Advancing in step with the establishment of 18th-century bourgeois society and enlightenment ideas, it provided a platform for the rights-based aspirations of bourgeois men who envisioned not just a society free of censorship and repression but also a state that would actively value participation by its citizens (Zaret 2000; Lang 2001; Barker and Burrows 2002).

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