What are civil society companies

German conditions. A social studies

Annette Zimmer

Annette Zimmer, born in 1954, studied political science, history and philosophy at the Universities of Mannheim and Heidelberg; 1986 Doctorate phil., 1986 - 1988 teaching and research stay at the Program on Nonprofit Organizations at Yale University; 1989 - 1995 university assistant at the University of Kassel in the area of ​​administrative research; since 1996 Professor of Comparative Political Science and Social Policy at the Institute for Political Science at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, 1998/99 Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto; 2010 Visiting Fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington D. C .; numerous publications on nonprofit organizations, clubs, associations, foundations, specifically on issues relating to the management and governance of organizations and their embedding in specific policy fields.

Civil society can be viewed from three different dimensions. From a normative perspective, civil society is equated with a democratic community and a just society. The habitual perspective relates to a certain type of social action. The actor-centered perspective places the focus on specifically acting people and organizations that are self-organized.

Historical review

"Civil society" as a term and concept can look back on a long tradition. In classical antiquity, "societas civilis" was synonymous with the ideal way of life for free citizens. Alexis de Tocqueville, a French nobleman who toured the United States at the beginning of the 19th century, was fascinated by the dynamism of American civil society, with its variety of voluntary associations (associations, clubs) and their importance for peaceful coexistence, problem solving, democracy and Self-organisation. Tocqueville's description of the then society in the USA offers the blueprint for the concept of a "civil society" in which social self-organization is based on the commitment of citizens, which is neither based on the calculations of the market nor on the sovereignty claims of the state without contradiction bends. Since then, a close connection has been seen between the ability of a society to organize itself and the robustness of its democratic constitution.

The normative implications of civil society

Forming opinions in discourse and exchanging opposing points of view have been central components of the concept since then. "Civil society" has also had a normative dimension since its early beginnings (Kneer 1997). "Civil society" functions as a model for a good and just coexistence in a democracy and, as such, always has a critical function vis-à-vis the ruling decision-making bodies in politics, business and public administration. This explains the proximity of the concept to social movements such as the women's, environmental or anti-nuclear movement (Roth / Rucht 2007; cf. Klein 2001). Even more, there is a close relationship between civil society and opponents of the regime in authoritarian or autocratic countries. The Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Ky (1991) from Myanmar and Liu Xiaobo (2010) from China are important representatives of civil society because of their commitment to the non-violent introduction of democracy and the rule of law in their countries.

Non-violence, d. H. "civil" interaction with one another is another central component of the concept of "civil society". Controversial topics or plans should be discussed in a non-violent manner with the mutual respect of those involved and a compromise should be reached. In this respect, civil society activities can also be effective as a "school of democracy", in which the process of exchanging opinions and the process of compromising and understanding can be learned. "Civil society" thus stands for a society that is characterized by "civility" in the sense of democracy, tolerance, responsibility and trust.

Civil society actors and their motives

"Civil society" is an area in which voluntary associations (associations), foundations, initiatives, non-governmental organizations or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profit organizations (NPOs) are active. The transition to social movements is fluid, as movements include civil society organizations but are not organizations as such. The goals and purposes of civil society actors can address general societal problems as well as the concerns and needs of special groups and be of a local, regional or international nature. Civil society forms the framework within which civic engagement can develop. This involves the creation or provision of goods and services aimed at the common good (e.g. tables for the needy, hospice movement), as well as influencing public opinion by participating in debates, protests and other high-profile actions (letters to the editor, party, Union or civic engagement).

With this in mind, non-profit institutions (foundations, cooperatives, limited liability companies) as well as clubs, associations and initiatives as voluntary associations take on tasks in a wide range of activities: They provide information about human rights violations or environmental damage, help victims of natural disasters, organize soup kitchens, run hospitals and kindergartens, mark hiking trails or make it possible to do sports from aerobics to soccer. The concrete commitment of citizens thus relates to a wide range of social problems and needs, it serves charitable, political concerns as well as the enrichment of leisure time. And it takes place in traditional organizations as well as in sometimes only temporary social movements.

The Enquete Commission of the German Bundestag

The Enquete Commission of the German Bundestag "Future of Civic Engagement" used the terms "civil society" and "civil society" synonymously (cf. Enquete Commission 2002: 59) although "civil society" and in particular "civil society" had a negative image in this country for a long time were afflicted. The commission has carried out a comprehensive inventory of the state of research on "civil society" and based this on a broad definition of the concept of civic or civil society engagement. Accordingly, this includes political and social commitment, activities in clubs, associations and churches as well as taking on public functions (e.g. lay judges), forms of reciprocity (e.g. neighborhood help), self-help and involvement in and by companies (corporate citizenship and Corporate Social Responsibility) (Enquete Commission 2002: 65 f.). It is a very comprehensive understanding of civil society engagement, which was taken as the basis here, whereby the Enquete Commission also linked the vision of a fairer and more democratic society that is essentially based on participation with the model of civil society. Specifically, the report of the commission names the goals, content and procedures of civil society:
    "Civil society is about the quality of social, political and cultural coexistence, about social cohesion and ecological sustainability. Understood in this way, civic engagement in the Federal Republic forms a central cornerstone in a vision in which democratic and social structures are actively promoted active citizens participating in the community tasks are filled with life, changed and tailored to future social needs. Civil society operates a social way of life in which both the civically committed and their diverse forms and associations are given more space for self-determination and self-organization . " (Study Commission 2002: 59)
The different perspectives on civil society

Civil society can therefore be viewed from a normative, a habitual or action-oriented and an actor-centered perspective. From a normative perspective, civil society is equated with the positive forward-looking project of a democratic community and a just society. This point of view was particularly represented by the dissident movements in Eastern Europe as well as by oppositional forces against the military dictatorships in Latin America: civil society as a democratic alternative to the existing authoritarian or dictatorial social and political status quo (Klein 2001). This perspective is always adopted when reference is made to civil society as an alternative and critical potential, as is very often the case in the media with reports on authoritarian or anti-democratic regimes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In contrast, in established democracies, civil society is not seen as an alternative to the status quo, but primarily associated with reform projects of social movements with the direct participation of citizens.
  • The habitual or action-oriented perspective on civil society relates to a certain type of social action, namely to civilian interactions with one another, non-violent and compromise-oriented: a society that is characterized by civility.

  • The fact that its members treat each other in a "civil" way is supported by political framework conditions, which are also characterized by "civility". These include the constitutionally guaranteed human and fundamental rights as well as equality before the law as well as enabling decent living conditions, for example in the sense of securing a subsistence level (Rucht 2010a: 88). To this extent, civil society is an expression of a political culture that is characterized by nonviolence, tolerance and a willingness to compromise.

  • The third perspective on civil society is actor-centered. This means that the focus here is on specifically acting people and organizations that are self-organized. This does not happen in traditional family structures and also not in the context of private companies or state authorities, but primarily in a social area beyond the market, state and private sphere and thus in the context of clubs, associations, foundations, networks, informal circles, social relationships and movements as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).