Civil Society coverCIVIL SOCIETY

Michael Edwards

Polity Press 2004

This is a fine book. At once readable and sophisticated, it is a challenging interpretation of the theoretical and practical significance of civil society as a concept and as a basis for action and hope about the future. Edwards writes with verve and lucidity, and draws upon his wide knowledge to reinforce his general points with an astonishing range of specific examples. It is, in my view, the best short treatment of the subject, and bound to be widely read and discussed. (Professor Richard Falk, Princeton University)

This is a gem of a book on a massive topic.  At barely 50,000 words it can - and should - be read in day or so, yet it manages to address lucidly and humorously some of the most urgent and compelling issues of the day. (Frank Webster, City University, London)


Is civil society the big idea for the 21st century? Or will the idea of civil society – confused, conflated and co-opted by elites – prove another false horizon in the search for a better world? By illuminating the uses and abuses of different theories and traditions in clear and engaging prose, this book will help readers of all persuasions to answer this question for themselves.

Drawing inspiration and examples from history and contemporary experience, Islam and Christianity, South and North, and activists and academics, this book gives voice to a rich and diverse account of civil society in its many different guises. In moving systematically through theories of associational life, the good society and the public sphere, exploring the neglected connections that exist between them, and clarifying their implications for policy and practice, Michael Edwards provides a comprehensive, accessible and often humorous overview of one of the most important debates of our times.

This book will be essential reading for students of politics, public policy, development studies and international relations. It will also be read by all those interested in the role of civil society in the media, policy-making and NGO communities.


1. Introduction – What’s the big idea?
2. Civil society as associational life
3. Civil Society as the good society
4. Civil Society as the public sphere
5. Synthesis – Unravelling the civil society puzzle
6. Conclusion - so what’s to be done?

About the author:

Michael Edwards is Director of the Ford Foundation’s Governance and Civil Society Program

Publication details

168 pages Publication date: January 2004
0-7456-3133-9 paperback £14.99 and $22.95
0-7456-3132-0 hardback £50.00 and $ 57.95

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