27 February 2010

Books on how civic associations promote anti-democracy

Amaney A. Jamal, "Barriers to Democracy: The Other Side of Social Capital in Palestine and the Arab World" (Princeton University Press, 2007):


Publisher's description: "Democracy-building efforts from the early 1990s on have funneled billions of dollars into nongovernmental organizations across the developing world, with the U.S. administration of George W. Bush leading the charge since 2001. But are many such 'civil society' initiatives fatally flawed? Focusing on the Palestinian West Bank and the Arab world, Barriers to Democracy mounts a powerful challenge to the core tenet of civil society initiatives: namely, that public participation in private associations necessarily yields the sort of civic engagement that, in turn, sustains effective democratic institutions. Such assertions tend to rely on evidence from states that are democratic to begin with. Here, Amaney Jamal investigates the role of civic associations in promoting democratic attitudes and behavioral patterns in contexts that are less than democratic. Jamal argues that, in state-centralized environments, associations can just as easily promote civic qualities vital to authoritarian citizenship – such as support for the regime in power. Thus, any assessment of the influence of associational life on civic life must take into account political contexts, including the relationships among associations, their leaders, and political institutions."

The book won the 2008 Best Book Award of the Comparative Democratization Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA).

From the award committee's remarks: "Amaney Jamal [...] teaches us that civic organizations have very different effects in non-democratic states. Far from being schools for democrats as some of our literature would suggest, civic organizations produce actors who mirror the attitudes and behaviors of their political patrons. In keeping with the larger literature on social capital, she finds that members of associations do display higher levels of trust than non-members. But, breaking with the older literature, she shows that their attitudes toward democracy are ambivalent at best. The association between trust and democratic values posited in work from established democracies does not hold.

"Jamal's Barriers to Democracy is a fascinating test of the theory of social capital built with evidence from survey data, open-ended interviews with elites, observation of over one-hundred individual organizations, and comparative reference to Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan. The committee was impressed with the force and import of Jamal's arguments and the truly impressive empirical data and research she brought to bear on her analysis. The study represents comparative politics at its best."

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Amaney A. Jamal is Assistant Professor of Politics at Princeton.

A number of earlier books seem to come to similar findings, among them, edited by Sigrid Rossteutscher, "Democracy and the Role of Associations: Political, Organizational and Social Contexts" (Routledge, 2005):


Publisher's description: "Voluntary associations have been presented as a solution to political apathy and cynicism towards representative democracy. The authors collected in this volume, however, argue that these claims require more robust substantiation and seek to critically examine the crucial link between the associative sector and the health of democracy. Focusing on the role of context and using diverse approaches and empirical material, they explore whether these associations in differing socio-political contexts actually undermine rather than reinvigorate democracy."

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Sigrid Rossteutscher is now Professor of Sociology at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany.

A book at least Jamal is aware of and refers to is "Civil Society Before Democracy: Lessons from Nineteenth-Century Europe", edited by Nancy Bermeo and Philip Nord (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000):


From the publisher's description: "Bringing together historians and political scientists, this unique collaboration compares nineteenth-century civil societies that failed to develop lasting democracies with civil societies that succeeded. Much of the current literature on the connection between civil society and consolidating democracy focuses exclusively on single, contemporary polities that are ever-changing and uncertain. By studying historical cases, the authors are able to demonstrate which civil societies developed in tandem with lasting democracies and which did not. Contrasting these two sets of cases, the book both enlightens readers about individual countries and extracts lessons about the connections between civil society and democracy in contemporary times."

Review: "This book bringing together the writings of historians and political commentators from Europe and the United States [...] shows us that civil society is not necessarily synonymous with democracy ..." ("European Library")

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Nancy Bermeo is now Nuffield Professor of Comparative Politics at Oxford.

Philip Nord is Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Princeton.

No comments:

Post a Comment