Civil society is the social space that exists between the state and the individual and it has been identified as a factor in the development of democratic politics. Civil society organizations can range from the domestic and the local through to the transnational and the global. In the twenty-first century, the question of democracy and civil society has taken on new significance: governments have shown themselves to be unable to meet the challenges posed by international economic flows, or to respond effectively to environmental risks. This context also feeds into debates about the citizen ‘as a human being’ and the multiple possibilities of agency in the globalized world. Global civil society, then, is embodied in multiple scales, structures and networks. It is an arena in and through which these issues and others can be addressed.
Today, civil society actors focusing on particular issues present themselves as bringing transparency, accountability, and specialist expertise to bear on decision-making processes, and well as offering alternative forms of representation and democratic legitimization. However, while civil society organizations are recognized as having played a part in democratization movements in East Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, their aims and interests are diverse and it is by no means the case that they have mutually-compatible aims and interests. Some scholars who have looked at the subject of civil society have complained that the term is often used in a way that is theoretically diffuse, and that deeper empirical investigation is required for a proper and balanced assessment. Empirical research on differing aims and interests needs to enquire into how these are articulated, mobilized, and received, as well as consider their consequences.
The LSE Taiwan Research Programme is concerned with the following questions: what is the basis on which civil society actors are judged to be legitimate and competent? How do they relate to other elements in the overall structure of power in the world? What kinds of alternatives do they offer? To what extent does discussion and awareness-raising translate into cultural change? Taiwan’s history as a rapidly-developed democracy (the first Chinese democracy) and its ambiguous international status means that it is particularly well-placed as a location for the study of civil society, and as point of comparison.
Justice and Civil Society
Ideas about a 'just society' are closely related to the development of civil society, encompassing how a country deals with legacies from the past, the problems of today, and threats for the future. Law is the area in which discussions about justice are most clearly developed, but justice is a concept which can be explored in a number of contexts. The Taiwan Research Programme approaches the subject through cross-disciplinary dialogue (anthropology, environmental studies, history, journalism, law, media studies, political science, religious studies, and sociology) between scholars working in a number of geographical areas.
Justice in Comparative Perspective: A special issue of the journal Taiwan in Comparative Perspective
Religion and Civil Society
Religious groups are among the most vibrant of the voluntary associations that exist within civil society. The Taiwan Research Programme has engaged both with scholars and with practitioners.
Seminars on Religion and Society in Taiwan
Forums with Tzu Chi