Policy Options for Civil Society
through complementary contrasts: definitional challenges
- / -
Presented to a Seminar on State and Society at the Russian Public
Policy Center (Moscow, 6-8 December 1994) under the auspices of the Council
of Europe. The introduction and the first part of this paper appeared in NGOs
and Civil Society: Some Realities and Distortions: the challenge of "Necessary-to-Governance
Organizations" (NGOs) published in Transnational Associations,
47, 1995, 3, pp. 156-180. [Only links to these introductory
parts are therefore provided here.
1. Cross-cultural challenge
In the light of the recent experience in Eastern Europe with "Western"
models of management and democracy, it is questionable whether it is useful
to concentrate on a conventional articulation of a supposedly uniform "Western"
view of "civil society". Guthrie (1994) calls attention to the problems
with this at the European level. Ana Maria Sandi (1992) points out that Western
societies also face a challenge as a result of the bureaucratization of their
Thus while Eastern European civil societies seek restoring those structures
that were destroyed and/or perverted. Western Europeans seek restructuring
of their bureaucratized civil societies. The forces willing to maintain the
status quo are those interested in manipulating masses of undifferentiated
people. Therefore, East and West together have to seek new forms and modalities
for structuring civil societies. These societies in turn will foster people's
involvement in generating values, formulating opinions, making demands on
The challenge would seem therefore to be one of offering a set of catalytic
images through which a range of alternative understandings of civil society
may be creatively explored. For a given culture some of these may prove more
meaningful and relevant than others (cf Hofstede, 1984; Gannon, 1994).
Exploration of a range of such images has recently proven very fruitful, notably
within the business world, in exploring different styles of business organization
(Morgan, 1986; Lessem, 1995; Trompenaars, 1994). It is unfortunate that such
thinking was not applied earlier to the management challenges in developing
countries, as problems in the use of "Western" management models in
Africa have illustrated (Bourgoin, 1984). It is becoming increasingly obvious
that seemingly intractable social problems and differences of perspective can
be fruitfully approached by reframing through imagery relevant to public policy
options (cf Schon, 1979; Judge, 1991).
It must also be remembered, within any society
influenced by a range of institutions, disciplines, and traditions, that each
of these itself constitutes a "culture" predisposed to favour or
reject particular modes of association in preference to others. The
"cross-cultural" challenge therefore exists within societies such as
Russia as much as within and between Western cultures.
Specifically the challenge here is to evoke, from a
range of Russian cultural perspectives, images that give coherence to some
understanding of civil society that reflects the richness of Russian culture --
specifically with respect to the relationship between State and Society.
Failure to explore this range leads to the risk of
premature conceptual rigidification from a particular perspective, excluding
other perspectives that later emerge as vital to the sustainable development of
society. This is especially the case with regard to those legislative and
administrative procedures which could rapidly turn out to be irrelevant and
even counter-productive in a Russian context.
It could even be argued that a society develops its
competitive advantages most fruitfully with respect to others through the
unique style with which it combines particular understandings from a wider
range of possibilities. Metaphorically, it is not the set of musical notes
which is important, for most may indeed be common to other cultures. Rather it
is the unique way in which selected notes are dynamically combined, in melodies
and musical forms, that carries the soul of a people. And clearly within a
culture such as Russia, a range of such musical forms are needed to embody the
many dimensions of being Russian -- whether or not some of these forms are agreeable
to other cultures. There may indeed be a place for some "Western
music", but it is most important to accord a place to those other forms
which will together uniquely embody Russian cultural perspectives.
2. "Civil society" as necessarily undefinable
Approached in this way, it becomes clearer that whilst
there may be many rather narrowly defined understandings of civil society. Of
much greater importance however, is the context, attitude or mode from which
these emerge and which provides a framework for them. It is this more
fundamental context which is the Civil Society in its larger sense and which as
such must necessarily evade any particular definition -- although being susceptible to many
interpretations as shown by Tester (1992) and Ghils (1992).
Consistent with the above approach, Ghils (1992)
defines the civil society in the following terms:
Dans sa conception la plus courante aujourd'hui, la société civile repose
sur cette dialectique subtile et fragile entre individualisme et collectivité,
interêts claniques et rationalité éthnique, affectivité comunautaire et rationalité
économique ou scientifique'. La complexité de la notion, la nature souvent
floue et vague de ses composantes sémantiques la rendent rebelle a toute conceptualisation,
au même titre que des termes tels que peuple ou nation et à la différence
de l'Etat. Les définitions en sont donc rares, les sens souvent implicites
et chargés de connotations. la structure de référence communément admise est
la relation société civile/Etat, avec, éventuellement une dominance diachronique
ou synchronique de l'un des termes.
It is this Civil Society as a collective dynamic which
provides a context for the spontaneity of ad hoc associative response to
new challenges of society -- especially those to which society has been
insensitive in the past. Evolution over time of the pattern of associative
activity is then the only meaningful "definition" of the "Civil
Society" in this larger sense.
3. Exploratory mapping process
It is useful therefore to start this exploratory
process by attempting to identify the many alternative ways in which civil
society can be perceived (the "notes" in the musical metaphor), as a
means of increasing understanding of the constraints on providing any simple
definition. In a sense it offers a "menu" of possibilities to be
This will also make evident the difficulty of
attracting universal consensus on the varieties of association (the
"melodies") or on the ways that they can cooperate in broad social
programmes ("the symphonies"). Of special importance is the
recognition of the role played by agreement and disagreement in associative
activity. As in music, there is a place for particular forms of agreement
("chords"), just as there is a place for certain forms of
disagreement ("counterpoint", "discord"), if the music is
to develop beyond banality. In this way it can be argued that in many cases it
is only the more complex social programmes, embodying patterns of agreement and
disagreement, which are adequate to the social challenges in a turbulent
Jacques Attali (1977), the former president of
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, has argued that the
organization of music pre-figures patterns of social organization. There is a
continuing danger that patterns of social organization will be favoured which
effectively correspond to very old forms of music. The oldest were based on
very simple understandings of harmony that excluded any form of discord --
suggesting modes of organization which fail to benefit from the rich
organizational understanding now embodied in the modern theory of harmony.
Whilst it is possible to discuss the range of
perceptual modes as models, a broader and more insightful discussion results
from treating such models as part of a set of images or metaphors (Morgan).
4. Challenges to governance through contrasting images
The following alternative perceptions are therefore discussed as contrasting
metaphors of civil society and its implications for the process of association
and development. These points are summarized in Table 1 (and are presented
in more detail in a separate Annex
to this paper). They are not mutually exclusive and may often be complementary.
TABLE 1: State versus Society (tentative)
Each horizontal row represents an axis of bias in selecting a policy
mix between State and Society. A policy choice must effectively be made
between the extremes for each of the 7 axes. For wider public understanding,
it is vital to represent each extreme by comprehensible images
|| "Subway network"
|| "Carnival fair"
|Planning (urban zoning)
|| "Assembly line"
|Going with the flow
Alienation and anonymity
Avant garde music ?
|Division of labour
Pictures at exhibition
Vulnerability of integrated systems
Organized crime rings
| "Residential complex"
Family / Kinship (extended)
| "News broadcast"
(metaphorical or unstated)
Learning by example
Unwritten rules (Catch-22)
|| "Public school"
||Overexposure of private life
Religious belief and practice
4.1 Challenge of coherence
Here the challenge to governance is to strike a
balance between the extremes of excessive order and excessive disorder.
Excessive order inhibits levels of diversity necessary to an adaptive response
to a complex and changing pattern of problems and possibilities. Excessive
disorder inhibits any possibility of comprehensive or integrated programmes to
such patterns within society as a whole.
4.1.1: Ordered array
4.1.2: Disorder and
chaos ("Carnival fair")
4.2 Challenge of change
Here the challenge to governance is to strike a
balance between features of society ensuring stability and predictability
against those associated with change and development. Excessive stability
results in a stultifying, unchallenging society, unresponsive to a changing
world. Excessive change leads to social instability and insecurity, making
consolidation of any social progress impossible.
4.2.1: Static structure
4.3 Challenge of identity
Here the challenge to governance is to strike a balance
between encouraging individualistic identification with particular
organizational units as opposed to identification with a wider community of
relationships between many such bodies. Excessive emphasis on individualism
results in an alienating degree of specialization which inhibits more
integrated, holistic approaches. Excessive emphasis on patterns of relationship
inhibits individual initiative through particular bodies.
4.4 Challenge of participation (and involvement)
Here the challenge to governance is to strike a
balance between marshalling human resources as opposed to relying on the
ability of individuals to self-organize in response to social needs. Excessive
emphasis on marshalling human resources inhibits individual motivation and
evokes resistance to collective initiatives. Excessive reliance on individual
initiative leads to selfish indifference to collective challenges.
relationship to phenomena ("Residential complex")
with phenomena ("Café")
4.5 Challenge of significance
Here the challenge of governance is to strike a
balance between significance clarified
through clear definitions as opposed to significance implicit in situations and
contexts but eluding unambiguous definition. Excessive emphasis on clear and
literal definitions inhibits ability to respond to conditions characterized by
ambiguity and the unstated. Excessive emphasis on unstated contextual significance
inhibits any ability to formulate unambiguous rules where these are essential.
4.5.1: Sharply defined
phenomena ("News broadcast")
defined phenomena ("Symbol")
4.6 Challenge of understanding (and communicability)
Here the challenge of governance is to strike a
balance between a stress on comprehensible initiatives in response to
communicable problems as opposed to a stress on initiatives of a less
comprehensible or communicable nature. Excessive emphasis on what can be
readily communicated inhibits any ability to respond to deal with levels of
complexity and subtlety why defy human comprehension. Excessive emphasis on
what is beyond human comprehension leads to superstition and reliance on
self-selected experts and inhibits action within existing capacities.
comprehensible ("Public school")
incomprehensible (or inexplicable) ("Church")
4.7 Challenge of spontaneity
Here the challenge of governance is to strike a
balance between due process and spontaneity. Excessive emphasis on due process
in response to social phenomena inhibits vital improvisation and
self-organization in the case of unforeseen problem situations. Excessive
emphasis on spontaneity inhibits any ability to benefit from collective
learning and to ensure equality and justice in social responses to similar
4.7.1: Phenomena in a
context of due process ("Tribunal")
5. Contrasting cross-cultural frameworks
The metaphorical approach above provides a tentative
framework within which options for governance can be explored.
Clearly the different polar perspectives are not
mutually exclusive and overlap in complex ways in the case of any culture,
discipline or school of thought. The 14 views have in fact been elaborated on
the basis of an investigation by W T Jones (1961), who developed 7 axes of bias
by which many academic debates could be characterized and profiled. Jones
showed how any individual (or school of thought) had a profile of pre-logical
preferences based on the degree of inclination towards one or other extreme of
each pair. The scholars named in each case are those given by Jones as
examples. He also applied his methodology to political philosophies.
As presented it is worth noting the tendency for those
with any bias to the left (in Table **), for example, to have difficulty in
distinguishing "Useful" from "Excessive" on the right --
and will find it convenient to confuse the two in any debate. The reverse is of
course true with any bias to the right.
A methodological framework of this kind can be
usefully challenged by other research on cross-cultural frameworks. The
dimensions under discussion are clearly complex and make comparisons between
them difficult. In each of the following systems, further work could clarify
the "biases" associated with the contrasting four categories in terms
of a framework similar to that above:
5.1. System of Magoroh Maruyama (Mindscapes, social patterns and
future development of scientific theory types) Four epistemological mindscapes:
5.1.1 H-mindscape (homogenistic, hierarchical,
classificational): Parts are subordinated to the whole, with subcategories neatly
grouped into supercategories. The strongest, or the majority, dominate at the
expense of the weak values, policies, problems, priorities, etc). Logic is deductive
and axiomatic demanding sequential reasoning. Cause-effect relations may
be deterministic or probabilistic.
5.1.2 I-mindscape (heterogenistic, individualistic,
random): Only individuals are real, even when aggregated into society. Emphasis
on self-sufficiency, independence and individual values. Design favours
the random, the capricious and the unexpected. Scheduling and planning are to
be avoided. Non-random events are improbable. Each question has its own
answer; there are no universal principles.
5.1.3 S-mindscape (heterogenistic, interactive,
homeostatic): Society consists of heterogeneous individuals who interact non-hierarchically
to mutual advantages. Mutual dependency. Differences are desirable and contribute
to the harmony of the whole. Maintenance of the natural equilibrium. Values
are interrelated and cannot be rank-ordered. Avoidance of repetition.
Causal loops. Categories not mutually exclusive. Objectivity is less useful
than "cross-subjectivity" or multiple viewpoints. Meaning is
5.1.4 G-mindscape (heterogenistic, interactive,
morphogenetic): Heterogeneous individuals interact non-hierarchically
for mutual benefit, generating new patterns and harmony. Nature is continually
changing requiring allowance for change. Values interact to generate new values
and meanings. Values of deliberate (anticipatory) incompleteness. Causal loops.
Multiple evolving meanings.
5.2. System of Geert Hofstede (Culture's Consequences: international differences
in work-related values) Four indices of work-related values:
5.2.1 Power distance: Namely the attitude to human
inequality. The index developed groups information on perceptions of an organizational
superior's style, colleague's fear to disagree with the superior, and the type
of decision-making that subordinates prefer in a superior.
5.2.2 Uncertainty avoidance: Namely the tolerance for
uncertainty which determines choices of technology, rules and rituals to cope
with it in organizations. The index developed groups information on rule orientation,
employment stability and stress.
5.2.3 Individualism: Namely the relationship between
the individual and the collectivity which prevails in a given society, especially
as reflected in the way people choose to live and work together. The index distinguishes
between the importance attached to personal life and the importance attached
to organizational determination of life style and orientation.
5.2.4 Masculinity: Namely the extent to which biological
differences between the sexes should or should not have implications for social
activities that are transferred by socialization in families, schools, peer
groups and through the media. The index developed measures the extent to which
people endorse goals more popular with men or with women.
5.3. System of Will McWhinney (Paths of Change: strategic choices
for organizations and society.) Four modes of reality construction (resolution
5.3.1 Analytic mode: Based on empirical thinking and
depends on hypo-deductive and inductive methods, using all logics, theories
and information available to the senses to identify possible solutions, predict
implications, and evaluate outcomes. Currently associated with the scientific
and quantitative methods. Provides no guide for the processes of change but
determines (or predicts) outcomes. Change is driven by the sense of efficiency,
of optimally organizing to produce that which can be produced.
5.3.2 Dialectic mode:
Composed of a variety of methods which may appear to be totally distinct and
arising from contrary world views based on unitary premises (and therefore held
to be intimately related). Encompasses the mode of argument, of disputation among
partisans of opposing views and of adversarial encounter -- all as
methods of unification. Change serves to cleanse the system of error, correct
for deviation from the norm, or protect the domain of truth. In the formation
of synthesis, evolution occurs as a historically driven imperative that
progressively cleanses the organization of impure functions.
5.3.3 Axiotic mode: Based on value exploration, resolving
issues by developing new, and shared, evaluations of events. May work through
"recontexting" or "transformation" of images by which an
issue of "dissolved". Concerned with questions of morality, fairness
and interpersonal behaviour as having value in and of themselves. Changes induced
may affect the ideology of a system and thus be profoundly disturbing to and
often blocked by those of unitary belief.
5.3.4 Mythic mode: Based on methods of symbolic creation.
At the deepest level, mythic events create new meaning, literally producing
something out of nothing. Resolution is produced by transcending existing structures
and meanings that are given to words, situations, objects, and stories. Mythic
inventions successful in engendering large scale change are those which are
in tune with the needs of the cultural system into which they are injected.
They are typically associated with charismatic leadership that captures the
will and faith of the involved population. Major methods are those associated
with creative endeavour, use of intuition and strong adherence to premises of
the mythic reality.
6. States versus Society: a challenge for governance
As Yehzkel Dror's study for the Club of Rome
indicates, all countries face new challenges in striking a balance between
State and Society in an increasingly turbulent world. In the case of Russia,
the key question is how to discover the appropriate mix of policies.
The advantage of the framework like that developed
from the work of Jones is that each of the 7 axes of bias can be used as a kind
of indicator -- as was his original intention:
- It is not only possible to discuss how far towards the "order"
or "chaos" poles the understanding of a Russian civil society could
usefully lie -- namely an average position in the priorities of State
- It is also possible to discuss the range of positions which are to be tolerated,
namely the range from how much "order" to how much "chaos"
-- namely a range of tolerance on that axis under different conditions. Similar
discussions could be applied to other axes.
- It is also possible to conceive of development in terms of a changing
average position and range on each axis, or to conceive of different profiles
with respect to different clusters of issues (for example, security, culture,
science, agriculture, or social security).
But as noted above, Civil Society in its broadest
sense involves the freedom of individuals and associations to effectively
function with different bias profiles according to need. The fundamental
challenge for governance, using the musical metaphor once again, is to ensure that
the resulting musical improvisation is both sufficiently harmonious and
challenging. This challenge cannot be readily met by legislative provisions
alone. It calls for new attitudes which can only be sustained by new images of
the Civil Society -- possibly sets of complementary images. It is these which
need to be articulated with greatest urgency in the Russian context and in the
light of the diversity of Russian culture.
The methodological challenge is further clarified in a
number of studies of policy, strategy and team-work styles, especially in
multinational business (Hofstede, 1984; Lessem, 1994; Trompenaars, 1994). The
insights of Geert Hofstede are especially interesting as a result of his work
on the cultural conflicts arising within a multinational corporation (see 8.2
above). He conducted a detailed study of the worldwide management of IBM, which
had originally assumed that it was possible to impose a homogeneous
"Western" work culture -- and suffered the consequences in
dysfunctional, multicultural management teams.
It should be possible to use a methodology like Hofstede's to clarify why there
are such differences within Western European nations in their understanding
of the civil society -- especially in their legislative provisions for associations
and freedom of association. As one of Hoftstede's summary diagrams illustrates
(see Figs 5.3, 7.2 and 7.4), Latin, Germanic, Greek and Anglo-Saxon cultures
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