In This Review

Global Civil Society?
Global Civil Society?
By John Keane
234 pp, Cambridge University Press, 2003
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"Global civil society" refers to the vast assemblage of groups operating across borders and beyond the reach of governments. Whether such organizations constitute a new, increasingly autonomous realm or are merely artifacts of Western liberal society is widely debated. Keane, in this sophisticated exploration of an ambiguous and politically contested phenomenon, argues that a global civil society is taking shape but that its character and implications for the older state system remain unclear. The sheer heterogeneity of groups, activities, and networks that make up global civil society -- nonprofits, businesses, social movements, tourists, academics, artists, cultural performers, ethnic and linguistic groups, and so forth -- threatens to make the term a description of everything and nothing. Keane nonetheless insists that this sprawling rumble does indeed function as a society -- or a "society of societies" -- with rules and norms of conduct. He admits, however, that global civil society is still an evolving, open-ended civic sphere whose importance will depend on its ability to become more democratic, better integrated into governance institutions, and invested with universal values.