11. The everyday life of civil society

Sebastiano Citroni (Insubria University, sebastiano.citroni@uninsubria.it) 

Paul Lichterman (University of Southern California, lichterm@usc.edu)

We invite papers that investigate civic action—by which we mean collective efforts to address social problems. The category of “civic” focuses us on how actors construct problems, organize people around those constructions and develop goals, whether those efforts are happening in social movements, volunteer projects or formally organized NGOs. Many social scientists conceptualize civic activities in terms of static spheres or sectors of society, such as the “civic sector” or “third sector,” especially when studying NGOs.  When ethnographers observe closely we find that the lines between civic and other “sectors” are hazy and shifting and depend partly on how civic actors themselves construct the significance of their activities, while carrying them out in different scenes. Also, when ethnographic research focuses primarily on situations and, secondarily, on their actors – instead of the other way around, as Goffman famously put it – the conventional distinctions between different kinds of civic action, such as social movements, nonprofit organizations, or volunteer projects become more complicated. 

 This type of ethnographic research opens a variety of pressing questions about civic action beyond the ones most typical for a given type of civic group. In the past two decades, research from around the globe has shown repeatedly the benefits of this  ethnographic focus on the interaction order  . We learn how civic actors develop the relationships that we call “social capital” after the fact, how they determine what counts as a powerful claim, a successful outcome, an effective leader or an appropriate decision-making process.  We propose a panel – The Everyday Life of Civil Society – that invites papers addressing one or more of these questions:

  1. What repertoire of scenes and interactional patterns do volunteers, social workers and activists practice in their everyday life?
  2. How do civic actors develop and change their practical relations to the geographical areas in which they work?  
  3. What would be considered successful outcomes for civic actors? How do these potentially change in different contexts? 
  4. How do civil society’s everyday activities relate to the growing pressure to produce positive social impacts? 
  5. How do civic actors carry out fundraising? What patterns of interaction characterize fundraising activities?
  6. How do civic actors negotiate authoritarian political contexts?
  7. Are there distinctively populist styles of civic action?

Key words: civic action, civil society, civic sector, interaction, political participation

Subfields: political sociology, cultural sociology, nonprofit studies, urban studies

Cefai D., Lichterman Pl, 2006.  “The Idea of Political Culture,” pp: 392-414 in Goodin R., Tilly C., eds., Oxford Handbook of Contextual Political Studies, Oxford University Press, New York.

Citroni S., Lichterman P., 2017, “Cultural entrepreneurialism for civic causes in Milan and Los Angeles”, Etnografia e ricerca qualitativa 3/2017, pp. 471-486.

Citroni S., 2018, “Azione civica e nuove forme di partecipazione a Milano”. POLIS, 32(3), 315-340.

Citroni S., 2020, “Water Socialisation at the Grass Roots. Prefiguration in Civic Action Styles”, Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia, 2/2020, pp. 329-353.

Duyvendak, Jan Willem and Olivier Fillieule. 2014. “Patterned Fluidity: An Interactionist Perspective as a Tool for Exploring Contentious Politics.” in Players and Arenas: The Interactive Dynamics of Protest, edited by J. Jasper and J. W. Duyvendak. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press. 

Eliasoph N. 2011, Making Volunteers. Civic Life after Welfare’s Edn, Princeton University Press, Princeton

Goffman, Erving. 1986[1974]. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press. 

Lichterman, Paul. 2021. How Civic Action Works: Fighting for Housing in Los Angeles. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

Lichterman, Paul and Nina Eliasoph. 2014. “Civic Action.” American Journal of Sociology 120(3): 798–863. 

Mische, Ann. 2008. Partisan Publics: Communication and Contention Across Brazilian Youth Activist Networks. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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