Chicago Journal of International Law


Many scholars use the concept of global civil society to understand the political meaning of nongovernmental organizations ("NGOs"). Global civil society refers to the transnationalization of social life. It denotes a realm in which people interact across borders outside their identification with a specific state or with their role as a producer or consumer. Over the past half century, innovations in communication technologies and less expensive air travel have made it easier for people to communicate, organize, and express their aspirations across state boundaries. A consequence of this is that people have been forming networks, advancing shared agendas, and coordinating political activities throughout the world. The rise of organizations such as Amnesty International, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace, and Human Rights Watch illustrates these phenomena and, for better or worse, global civil society has become a preferred term for describing the realm of collective life within which these groups operate. Scholars use the term global civil society to suggest that NGOs are not simply self-interested actors working the world political system for private gain, but also reflect a modicum of civic-mindedness at the global level. According to many political theorists, voluntary political engagement itself has a way of instilling habits of cooperation and public spiritedness within an organization and enhancing collaboration and social solidarity outside it. This takes on added relevance at the transnational level in that NGOs working in more than one country often strive to speak in universalist terms, claiming to advance agendas attractive to people throughout the entire world or at least a sector of people throughout the world. They aim, in other words, to find resonance with various publics and this requires an attempt to espouse civic-minded messages or, at least, to dress their parochial messages in cloaks of civic-mindedness. [CONT]