John Keane | About the Book
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About the Book

Civil Society: Old Images New Visions

Paperback: 201 pages
Publisher: Stanford University Press (1999)
Languages: English
ISBN-10: 0804736294
ISBN-13: 978-0804736299

It is only a decade ago that the eighteenth-centurydistinction between civil society and the state seemed old-fashioned, an object of cynicism, even of outright hostility. In this important new book, John Keane shows how, in a wholly unexpected reversal of fortunes, this antiquated distinction has since become voguish among politicians, academics, journalists, business leaders, relief agencies and citizens’ organizations.

John Keane examines the various sources and phases of the dramatic world-wide popularization of the term. He traces its reappearance in a wide range of contexts – from China to Tunisia, from South Africa to the emerging European Union – and clarifies the conflicting grammars and vocabularies of the language of civil society. Considerable care is taken to highlight the different possible meanings of the distinction between civil society and the state.

The book argues that the civil society perspective makes it possible to develop bold new concepts of power, property, violence, politics, and democracy, and suggests that the formation of civil society may be the best antidote to the worldwide problems of nationalism.

At the same time, John Keane also explores the fissures within civil society; he asks why civil societies generate patterns of violence that contradict the freedom and solidarity on which they are based, and discusses the possible effects on civil society of the fracturing of “the public sphere” and public opinion in the face of rapid changes in information technology.

Keane also takes the reader into previously uncharted intellectual territory by demonstrating that the civil society perspective contains unharnessed potentials: that it is possible to develop bold new images of civil society that alter the ways in which we think about matters such as power, property, violence, politics, publicity and democracy.