1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Civil Society and Social Movements (2000 - 2009)

Seminar by Professor Mario Pianta

Date: 6 Feb 2004



On 6 February 2004, Professor Mario Pianta from the University of Urbino, Italy gave a talk based on a paper that he presented on the evolution of UN Summits and global civil society activism.

Prof. Pianta defined global civil society as
The sphere of cross-border relationships and activities carried out by collective actors that are independent from governments and private firms, operating outside the international reach of states and markets’.

He conceptualised relationships of global civil society as both the political (the inter-state system) and economic sphere (the globalizing economy).

After presenting an overview of key conceptual issues and a brief history of the interaction between UN World Summits and civil society, Prof Pianta analysed some empirical evidence on civil society organisations active in global events. He presented the results of a recent survey of 150 CSOs involved in global events. Seeking to develop a typology of the impact of UN World Summits on civil society, he identified five stages of impact that UN summits on civil society: the opening door, the deepening effort, the launching pad, the broadening vision and closed door.

Following the presentation of Prof. Pianta, an open group discussion took place. The participants raised various questions on the possibility of global civil society to democratise global decision-making systems, the relationships between global and national civil society, as well as, between states and civil society. It was noted that states’ funding to NGOs is declining but that too much attention was given to the funding issue which in fact only affects development NGOs. It was suggested that other forms of global civil society have diverse models of funding. Other participants focussed on the relationship between civil society and the private sector saying that the UN’s decision to consider civil society and private sector as one social actor was misleading because of many undemocratic practices inherent in the present business system and ethics. Other participants raised the question on the relationship between global civil society and political parties and the possibility of the former becoming a major transnational political party. Prof. Pianta did not think this was something to be expected, as political parties are very specific to national politics. Finally, the discussion moved towards the issue of ‘uncivil’ civil society. Prof. Pianta stated that the growth of these sectors within civil society is in direct proportion of the lack of opening of doors of political negotiation. He gave the Balkans case as an example - where there was a disgregation of the economic and political spheres – of a vicious cycle between the quality of economic and political responses and civil society.