In this episode Shalini and her guest discuss the changing valances of civil society over the last few decades. How can we assess today the geographically and historically specific understanding of civil society as a sphere outside of, and opposed to the realm of politics and state institutions and the market? Was this kind of view informed by a very specific political experience in Eastern and Central Europe, and could this limited understanding of civil society have unwittingly paved the way for some of the populist revolts that we have seen in recent years? Is it a mistake to equate civil society with emancipatory progressive ideas that disregard its potential for supporting regressive political agendas? What are the fundamental dilemmas about both the inherent plurality, and thus, the contradictory nature of civil society? Can we overcome some of these dilemmas by focusing on issues of systemic inequality and acknowledging the inextricable connection between the political economy of our globalized world and the fate of civic culture, both national, local, and transnational?
Guests featured in this episode:
Lenny Benardo, Executive Vice President of the Open Society Foundations, and the founding director of the Open Society Fellowship Program. Lenny also sits on the boards of Bard College, the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, the European Humanities University in Lithuania, and my very own institution, CEU. He has published numerous articles in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, the International Herald Tribune, Bookforum, American Prospect, and Prospect magazines. Having worked in Russia, the Baltics, Poland, and Hungary earlier in his career with the Open Society Foundations, he has witnessed first hand the exhilarating atmosphere of the democratic transition in eastern Europe.