‘Taking Liberties': Contesting Visions of the Civil Society Project

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Civil society is an increasingly important concept for anthropology, encountered both in the social theories we employ, and in the discourses and practices of the people we study. This introductor y article was written in dialogue with the articles in this issue and attempts to highlight and begin to theorize key themes emerging from those articles. These include: the dialectical relationship between civil society and the state; the important role of middle classes in civil society; and the suffusion of civil society discourses with normative messages of modernization, reform, and salvation. It is argued that the long-standing custom- ar y conduct of ethnography amid the organizations, associations, and insti- tutions of daily life has equipped anthropology with conceptual tools that can contribute to a grounded and critical perspective on civil society
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-360
Number of pages22
JournalCritique of Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2001


  • anthropological theory
  • civil society
  • ethnography
  • middle classes
  • moral discourse
  • social movements

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