Transnational civil society operates in this volume as a boundary object, not only figuring but performatively inventing the field it is meant to name. As such, it connects a dazzling variety of research projects with funding from foundations, affiliations from universities, spaces and support from conference facilities, and so on. Considered as both a field of inquiry and an ideological instrument, civil society and its study could be said to function also as a boundary condition for scholarship that considers civil society as a precondition, outcome, or driver of or for modernization, democratization, and other processes which are often teleologically inflected. These trajectories typically follow well-established narrative conventions that accentuate their normative implications. Many of these tales are romantic and demand analytical and ethical caution.

Reading these chapters against the COVID-19 pandemic, democratic rollbacks, and wrenching protests that rocked Asia in 2020 is a sobering experience that raises important questions about the production of civil society and the plausibility of the editors’ hopes for civil society.