CIVICUS Civil Society Index

An international action-research project by and for civil society


Posted by civilsocietyindex on December 10, 2010


Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

23-27 August 2011


Theme: Civil Spaces in Africa: Past, Present and Future


Past and present narratives of civil society in Africa have been, by and large, about ‘space’ – political, material and symbolic. Inspired by stirring Eastern European examples of anti-state mobilization, the earliest discourses focused on the modalities of reclaiming space for civic agency from authoritarian state forces.  Hence the interest, variously, in thematics such as ‘expanding’, ‘opening up’ or ‘liberating’ ‘democratic space’. In these early, even heady, articulations, the goal of civil society was envisaged as a simple one: to contest and open up the public arena (one that, until then, the state had largely monopolized) as a way of embedding modes of participation crucial for civic renewal and political regeneration. In a sense, the history of civil society agitation and organizing in Africa over the past three decades is in fact the unfolding of this particular struggle.  It invited an inevitable reaction by state elements reluctant to relinquish many of the advantages carried over from colonial governmentality.

Yet, contestations for space are, by definition, always ongoing. Thus, gains and losses are hardly ever permanent, with strategic positionality always subject to the thrust and parry of local, regional and, increasingly, transnational political, cultural and economic forces. Current developments in various parts of Africa provide a vivid illustration of this complex. They create a backdrop for much needed reflection on the current history of space, spaces and space-making in African contexts. Moreover, because of the external normative characteristics of much research on the continent, they also invite a more careful examination of the endogenous nature of civil society and civic agency. 

It is against this background that we invite papers that attempt to deepen scholarly understanding of African civil spaces in their cultural, social, demographic, economic and political pluralities and particularities. Original, conceptual or empirically-grounded contributions are welcome from a variety of social-oriented disciplines – including, but not limited to: history, sociology, economics, demography, geography, cultural studies, literature, and political science.

Papers may be guided by the following questions, though creative subversions are strongly encouraged:  What characterizes civil spaces in Africa?  What, if anything, is distinctive about such spaces?  How have spaces metamorphosed within globalizing geo-political movements and dominant economic processes? How have these forces encouraged or thwarted the production of governable and/or ungovernable spaces across the continent? How can we understand fundamental and emergent forms of civic mobilizing – in primary associational life, in social movements, in mutuality, in charity, in philanthropy?  How do we measure their presence and effectiveness on the social landscape? What are forms and contours of the new spaces of assertion dominated by anti-state forces? How do we account for their emergence against the background of state retrenchment? In what ways do virtual and material spaces interact, and how do they reinforce or contradict one another? What are the implications of the virtualization of politics for the understanding of state praxis and citizenship? What roles are women, underprivileged and oppressed groups playing in the marking and delimitation of new socio-economic and political spaces? How do new forms of sociality enable us to comprehend the distinctions between private and public spaces, and how tenable are those distinctions?


Paper abstracts (maximum 500 words) should be sent to:

 Prof Ebenezer Obadare

Department of Sociology

Kansas University 

Please also provide contact details (at least an email address and telephone number) and your institutional affiliation.

 DEADLINE:  28 February 2011


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: