Out of the Ivory Tower: Civil Society and the Aid System
In the Third World itself governmental officials, social movement activists, international donors and other actors adopt the dominant paradigm o f the moment and take it out o f the ivory tower and into play - using its framework to generate certain questions and answers, to direct (governmental, international and philanthropic) funds, and to advance certain programmatic priorities over others. In the 1990s, civil society is fast becoming one o f these dominant paradigms. (Bickford, 1995: 203-4)
Ideas about civil society do matter: ideas carry implications for action, for good and for ill. Oxfam’s Roper-Renshaw, for example, cautions against the appeal of an unexamined rush towards ‘civil society’, warning that ‘because development is so complex, an organizing concept like civil society is very appealing... However, oversimplifications lead to distortions, poor analyses and poor outcomes’ (Roper-Renshaw, 1994: 48-49). In the same vein, World Vision’s Alan Whaites writes, ‘the ways in which development NGOs perceive civil society, and consequently plan projects to facilitate and enhance the work of civil associations, can have a significant long-term effect on the evolution (or lack of it) of civil society in the countries in which they work’ (Whaites, 1996: 240) Indeed, those interventions may be counterproductive to the project of social transformation.