Contemporary Wales
Contemporary Wales

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Contemporary Wales

8.2.1 Defining civil society

The notion of civil society is much talked about and debated in politics and it is often used by academics and politicians to mean very different things. I use civil society to mean the following:

  • Civil society represents a distinct sphere that is separate from the ‘state’ (political institutions, political parties and other political organisations) and the ‘market’ (organisations of production and distribution, such as firms and businesses).
  • Civil society provides a space for individuals and organisations to discuss, exchange views, and form opinions on matters that are important for society as a whole. Civil society is composed of organisations such as charities, non-governmental organisations, community and environmental groups, women’s organisations, faith-based and consumer organisations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, business associations and advocacy groups.
  • Most importantly, these voices and opinions emerging from civil society scrutinise, critique and counter-balance the otherwise overbearing influence of political society (the state) and economic society (the market). Civil society is thus a check – a form of control – on state power. For this reason, a vibrant civil society is often considered to be a vital element for a democratic society.
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