Seminar 1- Meanings: of democracy and civil society

Meanings: of democracy and civil society

Date: 7th March 2016, Location: Cass Business School, London, Time: 10-4

The event is free and will include food and drink on the day. We welcome participation from members of Civil Society Organisations, activists, academics and policymakers. The day will be participatory and inclusive.

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Seminar 1

Civil Society and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are widely claimed to be central in producing healthy forms of democracy in society. But what do we mean by democracy and civil society? How do CSOs produce more healthy forms of democracy? Furthermore what do we mean by democracy? Is democracy simply representative democracy as enacted at the ballot-box every five years or can it also mean more participatory and inclusive forms of engagement that changes the relationship between people?

However questions are arising whether CSOs are automatically good for democracy? Recent scandals or concerns have been raised about the way that some CSOs operate. For instance the pressurised fundraising with the death of poppy seller Olive Cooke, the links with politicians of Kids Company and the promotion of potentially unfavourable gas and electricity deals by Age UK have called into question the assumed integrity and democratic benefits of CSOs.

CSOs have also been increasingly called upon to become ‘service providers’ competing for contracts to provide services instead of the State. This, many argue, has reduced their internal democracy and accountability.

Can we imagine new possibilities to rethink democracy and civil society? Does Occupy!, the refugee support movement or the high voter turnout for the Scottish referendum and the Labour Party leadership election demonstrate there is an appetite for more direct forms of democracy? Are there new forms through which we can think about democracy and civil society and the relationship between civil society and democracy for the future?

This first seminar takes up these theme and asks some big questions about the nature of and relationship between Civil Society and Democracy. The event will be highly participatory and will involve CSO practitioners, activists, policymakers and academics. There will be a series of provocations by our speakers to stimulate debate and numerous opportunities for interaction.

Our provocateurs are:

Debra Allcock-Tyler, is the Chief executive of the Directory For Social Change. She is well known for provoking controversy in the service of protecting CSOs independence and reputation.

Jeremy Gilbert is Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at UEL. An academic activist Gilbert has written widely on democracy, anticapitalism and radical theory in academic journals and activist magazines such as Red Pepper.

Bill Cooke is Professor of Strategic Management at the University of York. He co-authored Participation: the New Tyranny? with Uma Kothari a book that challenges the rhetoric of participation.

Sian Sullivan is Professor of Environment and Culture at Bath Spa University. She has written widely on new social movements and on Uncivil Society.

Rebecca Fisher is researcher for Corporate Watch. She edited their book Managing Democracy Managing Dissent, a book which argues that genuine democracy and capitalism exist in fundamental contraction to each other.


    • The seminar programme is open to practitioners, policy makers, activists, and academics who are interested in, participate or research in Civil Society, particularly around democracy and participatory forms of organising.
    • The seminars will have a series of speakers, who will act as provocateurs rather than lecturers and as such the seminars will be highly interactive and participatory.
    • The seminar will draw on research and experience of academics and practitioners to develop an inter-disciplinary network to explore and debate these ideas. It is also particularly welcoming to PhD and early career researchers.

All seminars are free and will include food and drink

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