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The idea of civil society has proved very elusive, escaping conceptual grasps and evading sure-footed negotiation of the concept itself. Resurrected in a very definite historical setting, that of authoritarian states, the concept of civil society came to signify a set of social and political practices that sought to engage with state power. The close connection with the re-emergence of the concept and the collapse of dictatorial states made civil society attractive to a variety of political agents pursuing different agendas: expanding the market at the expense of the state, transiting from mass politics to single-issue and localised campaigns, undermining confidence in accepted modes of representation such as political parties, and in general shrinking the domain of the state and that of accepted modes of politics. That the concept of civil society could suit such a variety of different political projects is cause for some alarm, for it might well mean that civil society has come to mean everything to everyone remotely interested in it.

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