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Civil Society | Indiana University | Lenkowsky, Leslie | 2010

How unique are the American traditions of philanthropy and voluntarism? Alexis de Tocqueville believed they were among the United States’ most distinguishing characteristics, responsible in no small measure for the success of “democracy in America.” Yet, increasingly, scholars are discovering seemingly analogous traditions and institutions in other countries. Moreover, to promote democracy and economic growth, individuals and organizations ranging from billionaire George Soros and the World Bank to grassroots activists and student groups are trying to develop the institutions of “civil society” in countries where they have seemingly been absent (such as those once part of the former Soviet Union). Whether or not civil society and democracy can take root in the Middle East or Afghanistan has become a major issue in American foreign policy.
This course will examine the state of “civil society” throughout the world. It will look at the mix of arrangements different societies and cultures use to address common concerns (such as providing social services, dealing with ethnic conflict, or achieving self-governance), how voluntary organizations are established and function outside the United States, and the conditions under which the traditions of philanthropy and voluntarism can be nurtured. It will also consider whether or not “civil society” is a universal feature of social life—and always a desirable one. Not least important, by scrutinizing the experience of other countries and cultures, the course aims to give students a greater understanding of the nature of—and possibilities for—“civil society” in the United States.