Civil Society as Value and Resource: Civil Society, Neoliberalism and the Third Way in Denmark

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    In the 1970s and 1980s, civil society re-emerged on the political scene and has been the centre of a massive interest publically, politically and academically as a third ‘sphere’ or ‘sector’ outside state and market. Civil society was seen both as a hallmark of a well-functioning liberal democracy by guaranteeing a free, independent sphere of contestation and critique, but civil society was also increasingly throughout the 1990s, and continuing in the new millennium, seen as a resource of public governance that could take over public service provision from an ailing welfare state and hinder the bureaucratization of public service provision. This has also been the case in Denmark. In his 1978-79 lectures on liberal and neoliberal governmentality, The Birth of Biopolitics, Michel Foucault highlighted civil society as a key site of veridiction and plane of reference that formed the principle of self-limitation of a liberal and neoliberal governmentality. This paper analyses the role of the notion of civil society in neoliberalism, with a special focus on Denmark, and particularly focusing on the Social Democratic governments from 1993-2001. The paper argues that the notion of civil society – and all its related concepts such as activation, responsibility, flexibility, partnerships, social cohesion, social capital, trust – has in the Danish case, due to the invocation of the heritage of ‘associational Denmark’, been a central legitimatory trope in the restructuring of the Danish welfare state, flexibilization of the labour market, cutbacks and competition in public sector social service provision and privatisation of public enterprises.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2019
    Number of pages14
    Publication statusPublished - 2019
    EventThe 3rd Nordic Challenges Conference - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
    Duration: 6 Mar 20198 Mar 2019
    Conference number: 3


    ConferenceThe 3rd Nordic Challenges Conference
    LocationCopenhagen Business School
    Internet address

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