Skip to main content

Unit information: Global Civil Society in 2020/21

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Global Civil Society
Unit code POLIM0022
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Rossdale
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit examines the international politics of global civil society (GCS). It provides an introduction to central theoretical debates about the nature of contemporary civil society actors, and explores a series of debates relating to the social, ethical and political role of GCS. The first part of the module identifies the main theoretical approaches for understanding GCS, which differently situate GCS with respect to international governance, international institutions, NGOs and social movements, and the international public. We discuss what kinds of politics and publics are included within different accounts of GCS, and importantly, who and what is excluded. The second part of the unit explores three vectors through which GCS operates; human rights, development, and war. All three are areas where different civil society actors attempt to speak, act, operate and agitate in the name of and on behalf of global publics. We look at how GCS actors work with and against international institutions, and at the often violent contradictions and complicities that accompany apparently progressive civil society programs. The third part of the unit considers GCS from the perspective of actors who are often excluded from dominant conceptions of citizenship: indigenous people and migrants. We look at how forms of civil society led by these actors challenge established political conventions and imagine new forms of international relations.

Unit aims:

  • To develop an understanding of different debates surrounding global civil society;
  • To critically examine different theoretical understandings of the role and relevance of civil society in the context of global governance, international institutions, NGOs and social movements, and the international public;
  • To evaluate the role played by global civil society in the fields of human rights, development, and war;
  • To reflect on the different kinds of international relations that are reproduced, contested and generated by different kinds of global civil society actors.

Intended learning outcomes

After completing this units students will have acquired:

  1. An understanding of the conceptual debates about the interaction between civil society and global governance;
  2. The ability to critically evaluate the relationships between civil society, legitimacy, participation and transparency;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate patterns of civil society participation in different international organisations;
  4. The ability to integrate theoretical and empirical materials;
  5. The ability to synthesise and evaluate arguments drawn from the relevant academic literature in both verbal and written form.
  6. The ability to develop critical discussion skills particularly through seminar participation, group work and seminar presentations.
  7. The ability to write articulately, concisely and persuasively,
  8. The ability to deliver articulate, concise, persuasive and well-paced presentations
  9. Time management skills both in the preparation of the formative and summative assessments and in the delivery of the seminar presentation

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Details

Formative assessment: seminar presentations supported by a handout. The seminar presentation supported by a handout provides formative assessment of (1) the student's grasp of the substantive issues associated with this unit and (2) the student's ability to engage with that substantive material in an articulate, concise and persuasive way both verbally and in written form (learning outcomes 1, 4, 5, 8 and 9).

Summative Assessment consists of a 4,000-word essay (100%) (learning outcomes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9).

Reading and References

  • Florini, Ann M. (Ed.) (2000) The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Washington.
  • Kaldor, M. (2003) Global Civil Society: An Answer to War: Polity, Cambridge - JC337 KAL.
  • Keane, J. (2003) Global Civil Society?: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge - JC337 KEA (Also available on electronic book).
  • Keck, M.E. and Sikkink, K. (1998) Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics: Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y.; London - JF529 KEC
  • Scholte, J.A. (2011) Building Global Democracy? Civil Society and Accountable Global Governance: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
  • Smismans, S. (ed.) (2006): Civil Society and Legitimate European Governance: Edward Elgar -JN40 CIV.
  • Steffek, J. Claudia Kissling, and Patrizia Nanz (eds.) (2008). Civil Society Participation in European and Global Governance: A Cure for the Democratic Deficit?: Palgrave, Basingstoke - JN40 CIV.