Civil and Uncivil Society

Oxford Handbook of Civil Society, M.D. Edwards, ed., Oxford University Press 2011, 209-19

Posted: 30 Sep 2014

Date Written: September 27, 2010


The debate over civil society remains unsettled, with varying, often conflicting ideas about its definition, purposes, and effects. Lurking within this argument is another even more amorphous concept, ‘uncivil society.’ Proposed sometimes as a resonant and seemingly obvious contrast to the real object of interest, uncivil society has increasingly taken on a life of its own, particularly in the post 9/11 period. This chapter argues that the concept of uncivil society should be strangled in the crib. In its various guises, it contributes to needless conceptual proliferation while adding little of analytic value. Worse, as typically used, uncivil society mixes a pretense at rigor with an overwhelming dose of obloquy. The term is used to place organizations, goals, or tactics beyond the political pale. Groups to the analyst’s liking are starred as civil, while those she abhors are tarred as uncivil. Such labeling is both acceptable and expected as a rhetorical tack in the thick of ideological combat. But if scholars are serious about understanding rather than politicking, uncivil society should be unceremoniously dispatched.

Keywords: civil society, uncivil society, nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, deliberation, nonprofit organizations

JEL Classification: L3

Suggested Citation

Bob, Clifford, Civil and Uncivil Society (September 27, 2010). Oxford Handbook of Civil Society, M.D. Edwards, ed., Oxford University Press 2011, 209-19. Available at SSRN:

Clifford Bob (Contact Author)

Duquesne University ( email )

600 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
United States

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