Tendencies in Operations of Civil Societies in the context of Globalization

Kira V. Krylova, School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University

Tigran S. Saakyan, School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University


Amid globalization a lot of non-governmental actors have appeared on the world stage. In recent decades civil society organizations have expanded the arena of their action from local and national levels to the international one. Here we will describe two levels of their action – cooperation between civil societies of several states and civil society cooperation worldwide, or in other words the level of global governance and global civil society. On the one hand, national civil societies seek cooperation with foreign civil societies just like states seek cooperation with foreign states. On the other hand, it becomes more clear now that it is impossible to manage the world and solve societal challenges basing only on efforts of states and governments which consequently rises the issue of participation of civil societies from all over the world or global civil society as a whole organism in global governance.

Key words: civil society, globalization, civil societies cooperation, global governance, global civil society.

Main body:

Civil society has been an important topic for discussion for centuries. Lots of researchers and philosophers paid and continue to pay attention to this social phenomenon. Nowadays civil society is assosiated with the level of democracy in a state, as it reflects the level of citizen participation in political, social and economical processes beyond simple voting in elections. The concept of civil society did not lose its importance in the XXI century when it is observed that civil society groups are functioning actively as never before, in particular on global scale.

The aims and objectives of this article are to:

  1. Describe the impact that the globalization has on the interaction between civil societies of different countries;
  2. Explain how the role of civil societies is changing amid ongoing globalization.
  3. Identify the trends and tendencies in development of cooperation between national civil society institutions in the context of globalization.

Even though the topic of civil society has attracted lots of researches, it is however difficult to give a singular definition of civil society as there are many approaches to what it is. Over time the conceptualization of civil society has greatly changed but it still remains a widely used term that contains diverse and complex elements. Nevertheless, there is some common ground in terms of general understanding of the nature of this phenomenon. Firstly, civil society is regarded as an independent sector consisting of citizens which is at the same time distinct from government and business and therefore called a ‘third sector’. However, the borders between these sectors are often blurred. Secondly, being independent from the political sphere, civil society is nonetheless ‘oriented towards and interacts closely with the state and the political sphere’(Spurk, 2008), as civil society groups often perform as interest groups that try participate in the process of political decision making. Thirdly, civil society is close to citizens themselves but it cannot be directly associated with private sphere, therefore we consider it more logic to regard civil society as an intermediate sphere between state (or political), economic and private spheres. In general nowadays civil society refers to ‘the voluntary associations whose activities seek to shape policies, norms, and/or deeper social structures’(Rousseau, 2014). At last, those communities who belong to civil society are social associations, social movements, and sometimes the media.

As we live in a new historic period the context for civil society and the environment for its actions are changing. The modern world can be characterized by the process of globalization which implies intensification of connection and interdependence between countries all over the globe. In other words, globalization on the whole is associated with ‘increasing interdependence of economic, social and political activities across national boundaries (Choudhary, 2004). Speaking about globalization, it is impossible not to mention that one of its main characteristics is that there is now more actors appearing on global stage. These include non-governmental organizations such as transnational corporations and banks, as well as social actors, social movements and organizations. That is why this process is known to be leading to the emergence of a global society with a specific system of global governance. There is nowadays a great number of intergovernmental organizations  which states are trying to establish for cooperation on different issues. At the same time now states are not the only ones to participate in global governance.

The interdependence that globalization has created reflects in how vulnerable states and societies all over the world are towards different kinds of problems in different parts of the planet. Globalization has caused a number of challenges that any country and the world on the whole have to face. States are trying to solve all these problems in the framework of bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation with the help of special institutions (such as the UN, WTO, G7, etc). However, it is clear that intergovernemental cooperation is not enough to establish comprehensive cooperation between countries and tackle all the challenges and that civilian participation is as important. That is why civil society organizations in many countries are now actively interacting with one another.

Therefore the first important change in the nature of civil society that we would like to point out is that it now aims at cooperation with civil societies of other countries. It is also important to stress that governments play a significant role in establishing the ties between two or more civil societies.

A vivid exemple of this tendency is the Dialogue of Trianon, created not so long ago, in spring 2017, at the initiative of heads of state of Russia and France, Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron. The idea behind this project is to deepen relations between two countries through deepening ties between their civil societies, especially between the youths of two countries, and to create favorable conditions for facilitating bilateral projects of all kinds and in general comprehensive bilateral cooperation in different fields, specifically in business, culture, science, education, etc., which will consequently lead to more sustainable peace and a prosperous world.

The format of the Trianon Dialogue implies different joint projects and activities in which citizens of both countries are involved. Those include various forums (St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Stolypin Forum, Forum de Paris sur la Paix, etc.), round tables, meetings (e.g., ‘Rencontre des alumni Sciences Po et MGIMO’), festivals and contests (Festival du film russe de Paris), educational and research projects, projects on development of business cooperation, etc. All these activities are created specially for schools and universities, museums, theatres and other cultural establishments, scientific centers, even enterpreneurs who seek to develop economic cooperation with french companies([1]).

However, civil societies do not only interact with each other within bilateral cooperation but they also appear on global stage. The discussion about the emergence of civil society on a potentially new worldwide level started in the 1990s and especially in beginning of the XXI century, when an ‘unprecedented global popular mobilization in about 800 cities across the world against the war in Iraq’(Choudhary, 2004) took place in 2003. Commenting on that, the New York Times used a collocation ‘second superpower’, referring to global civil society.

The United Nations was one of the first to talk about emergence of ‘global civil society’ and its importance in the context of resolving global problems and global governance in general. The UN claims that it is necessary to establish a dialogue with civil society and to facilitate their participation in global cooperation, as it is pointless to act on global issues without cooperating with representatives of social groups who are directly concerned with most of the problems.

There is however lack of clarity in conceptualization of the term global civil society. This might be interpreted as a catchall term for all civic groups who are performing outside of their national borders. Rupert Taylor observes that the term global civil society has emerged as ‘a term for non-governmental organizations or social movements, of all shapes and sizes, operating in the international realm’(Choudhary, 2004).

According to the UN, civil society helps to define global priorities and increase the level of prompt response. Civil society organizations are regarded as ‘partners in the process of deliberation and policy formation’ and ‘execution of policies’(Choudhary, 2004).

The UN allows them to interact with high UN officials and the UN institutions, as well as with country delegations with the aim of ‘providing them with assistance in presenting their views effectively’(Choudhary, 2004).

The major role of NGOs is reflected in article 71 of UN Charter([2]) and since the very beginning of UN’s work a great attention has been paid on the interaction with civil society institutions as over 1200 voluntary organizations attended United Nations Conference on International Organization([3]) (also known as San Francisco Conference). One the contemporary exemples of interaction between UN, UN’ organisations and civil society of different countries. The activity of Civil Society Outreach (CSO) Unit([4]) of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development is aimed at promoting participation of civil society institutions in the work of UNCTAD, and the functioning of UN in general.

Nowadays civil society organizations are finding ways to exert influence on the global decision making process. Thanks to modern technology, these organizations such as social movements are now able to have influence on the global agenda. Social media help them promote a particular issue, attract the attention of the global community to it, mobilize stakeholders all over the world and act altogether on influencing the decision making process. This process can be defined as ‘creation of global public opinion’(Kanunnikov, 2016).

And thanks to civil society, governments started to think about ways to overcome various societal challenges. For example, a lot of attention has been drawn to the issues of human rights violation, gender equality, cancer and HIV treatment, as well as nuclear desarmament, etc. And the Global Advisory Group created after discussions with civil society representatives([5]) serves as an example of this experience. It was convened by Executive Director of UN Women and it includes 25 members comprising, for example, gender equality activists. In addition global civil society gives a wide range of people, from disabled persons to homosexuals, an opportunity to speak about problems that concern them on a previously unavailable level.


To conclude, it’s necessary to mention that the issues discussed above are one of the new forms of the functioning of civil society. Amid globalization there is still a number of global problems that should be resolved. As the role of civil societies in it is increasing, the issues of the cooperation between national civil societies are becoming more and more important. Bilateral or multilateral civil society cooperation aims at promoting mutually beneficial relationship between countries, establishing a sustainable and comprehensive dialogue between citizens, as well as professional organizations and other communities, exhange of knowledge and ideas, implementing various initiatives which in the end will help to overcome common challanges and resolve problems that affect everyone. In addition, civil society organizations are now starting to participate in global governance along with nation-states. Global civil society has a meaningful role in a wide range of issues, even such as peacemaking and peacekeeping as far as many others all over the world.


  1. Choudhary K. (2004) Global Civil Society, Globalization and Nation-State // "Contesting Citizenship and Civil Society in a Divided World", Conference Working Papers Series-Volume IV - Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  2. Kanunnikov A. (2016) Civil Society in the Context of Globalization // PolitBook. No 2. P. 141–154.
  3. Rousseau R. (2014) Globalization, Democracy, and Civil Society: An Assessment // Diplomatic Courier. Vol. 8, Issue 6.
  4. Spurk C. (2010) Understanding Civil Society - History, debates, and contemporary approaches, in Thania Paffenholz , ed., Civil Society and Peacebuilding: a Critical Assessment. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers (3–28).

[1] Dialogue de Trianon [Electronic resource] / Dialogue de Trianon. — Electronic data. — Mode of access:

[2] United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 24 October 1945, Mode of access:

[3] High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament [Electronic resource] / General Assembly of the United Nations. — Electronic data. — Mode of access:

[4] UNCTAD and Civil Society [Electronic resource] / United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. — Electronic data. — Mode of access:

[5] Civil Society Advisory Groups [Electronic resource] / UN Women. — Electronic data. — Mode of access: