Gender and Civil Society: Time for Cross-Border Dialogue
Author: Jude Howell
Size: 22 pages (136 kB)
This article suggests a framework for thinking about the gendered nature of civil society. The framework involves four sites of power – family, civil society, state, and market – that are infused and interconnected by a circuit of gender relations. This circuit comprises culturally specific roles, identities, norms, and values that delineate men and women as socially distinct beings. Conceptualizing gender relations as a circuit frees it from any essentially given location. The article argues that civil society and feminist theorists should engage in cross-border dialogue.
There has, so far, been little theorisation of the engendering processes of civil society. This is not for want of an extensive body of research on the economic, political, cultural, and historical aspects of gender relations. Instead, there has been a failure on the part of civil society and feminist political researchers to engage with each others' frameworks. While feminist theorists have centred their analysis on the social construction of the public/private divide, civil society theorists have been more preoccupied with the relationship between the state and civil society, and to a lesser degree with the market.
The fact that civil society and feminist researchers have not engaged in a serious dialogue with each other has had significant consequences at both the theoretical and practical levels:
Compared to the civil society theories that treat the family (domestic) as a residual boundary marker in order to focus attention on civil society/state or civil society/state/market relations, this new model incorporates the four sites of concentrated power relations: the state, civil society, market, and household. By breaking down the public into the state and civil society, the model enables analysis that recognises the different organising principles of the state (regulation and coercion) and civil society (voluntary solidarity) and the connections made between these through gender relations. The model:
Howell, J., 2007, ‘Gender and Civil Society: Time for Cross-Border Dialogue’, in Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 415-436.