S05E06: Leonard Berna­do on Civ­il Soci­ety and the Pol­i­tics and Prac­tices of Civ­il Soci­ety Organizations

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.


Shalini Randeria

Shalini Randeria is Rector and President of the Central European University (Vienna/Budapest). Before, she was Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute Geneva, and Rector of the Institute of Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna from 2014 to 2021. She has published widely on the anthropology of globalisation, law, the state and social movements. Her empirical research on India also addresses issues of post-coloniality and multiple modernities.