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SPP 301

Author: Professor James L Gibson
Description: One of the most ubiquitous but confused concepts in theories of democratization is civil society. Although nearly all who think about democratization consider civil society a crucial contributor to democratic government, there is little consistency and even less rigor in ways in which scholars use the concept. It not even clear whether it refers to societies, groups within societies, or individual citizens. To test hypotheses about the role of civil society in democratization, the concept must be given rigorous conceptual and operational meaning.<br /><br /> This paper investigates civil society as an attribute of citizens and the social networks in which they are embedded. Civil society is conceived as a continuum describing the interconnectedness of citizens, ranging from socio-political atomization to connectedness and integration. Making use of the idea of the "strength of weak ties," civil society is operationalized in terms of social networks in which people are--or are not--embedded.<br /><br /> My analysis focuses on surveys I recently conducted (with the assistance of the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Council for Soviet and East European Research) in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Russia, France, Spain, and the United States. First, I describe the attributes of social networks, noting in particular the degree of atomization, strong ties (intra-relational), and weak ties (inter-relational). Second, I consider the degree to which integration in social networks facilitates social learning, especially in transitional regimes. The results are quite mixed, but in some instances more extensive social networks are associated with greater support for democratic institutions and processes. No support is found for the hypothesis that transitional regimes differ from more established democracies.

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CSPP School of Government & Public Policy U. of Strathclyde Glasgow G1 1XQ Scotland