Civil Society as Idea and Civil Society as Process: The Case of Ghana

Date: Oct, 2002
ODID Working Paper No. 92
Author(s): Lindsay Whitfield (QEH/St Antony's College)

The idea of civil society contains a set of assumptions about the unity of civil society, the civility of civil society, the 'separateness' of civil society and the state, and the intrinsic relationship between civil society and democracy. All of these assumptions can be questioned by examining civil society in a specific country context. In the case of Ghana, processes in civil society have always entailed elements of participation, exclusion and manipulation of the idea of participation for the purposes of exclusion. The subsequent hegemonic deployment of the idea of civil society did not transform these earlier processes of participation/exclusion into something radically different. Nevertheless, the idea of civil society does have implications. It provides a new way of obfuscating reality and legitimizing exclusion, while concurrently genuinely empowering some sections of society. This thesis attempts to understand civil society in Africa by analytically separating 'civil society' into civil society as idea and civil society as process. It examines them as separate entities with their own logic and then looks at how they interact in the 1990s to produce a new set of circumstances in Ghanaian politics in particular, and African politics in general.

ODID Author(s)