Beijing Law Review, 2012, 3, 206-212 Published Online December 2012 (
The Role of Global Civil Society in Global Govern an ce
Vivek Kumar Mishra
School of Law Justice & Governance, Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida, India.
Received July 13th, 2012; revised August 15th, 2012; accepted September 4th, 2012
Globalisation is the most defining feature of the twenty first century. The globalised world faces new challenges such as
climate change, terrorism, poverty and economic crisis. These challenges having no borders and cannot be solved by
any country alone. These can be resolved only by coordinated efforts at the global level. Therefore, the world needs
more effective forms of collaboration between international organisations, governments, the private sector and global
civil society. The paper is an attempt to elucidate the role of global civil society as a means of global governance for the
resolution of many global issues. More particularly, the aim is to understand how global civil society organisations are
shaping the processes of global governance, and what their implications might be for the quality of governance at the
international level.
Keywords: Global Civil Society (GCS); Global Governance; International Non Governmental Organisations (INGO);
Trans National Corporations ( T NC s)
1. Introduction
The term “Globalisation” broadly means “the integration
of economies and societies through cross country flows
of information, goods, services, ideas, technologies,
capital and people (Rangarajan [1])”. Roland Robertson,
[2] refers it “as the compression of the world and the
intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole”.
Wallerstein [3] has aptly remarked that “globalisation is
a driving force of the capitalist world economy”. Scholte
[4] has stated it as “an ensemble of developments that
make the world a single place, changing the meaning and
importance of distance and national identity in world
affairs”. Globalisation is broadly viewed as a contempo-
rary process of increasing intense interconnectedness,
interdependence and integration of economies across bor-
ders and communities in different spheres of human life
(Chaudhary, [5]).
In the process of globalisation, interactions take place
from the local and national to the supranational level.
The encompassing changes in technological, cultural,
political and especially economic domains can be cha-
racterised as supranationalisation. The increasing supra-
national character of many issues, i.e. terrorism, political
Islam, public health, the environment, trade and invest-
ment is giving the birth of new global problems (Good-
hart, [6]). The supporters of globalisation especially hy-
per globalist focuses on the inflow of foreign investment
and higher economic growth, technological advances,
shared knowledge, generation of new employment and,
in turn, improving quality of life. On the contrary, the
opponents strongly oppose globalisation and in particular
of the “market fundamentalism.”1According to this view,
globalisation is good for the rich, does little to help the
poor and in fact is a major cause of inequality in the
The sovereignty of the state depended on a territoriality
geography where all social, economic, political and other
transactions occur at or within a fixed location. With the
end of territorialism and emergence of globalism, it is
said that statism has lost its foundation because state is
unable to control over financial capital, drug trafficking,
terrorism and other global problems. The globalisation
has enforced the “retreat of the state” and brought gover-
nance into the hands of corporate powers and private
markets that further their own personal interests at the
expense of the poor (Yamini Aiyar, [7]). The role of glo-
bal civil society has become important for analysing the
asymmetric power relations and the undesirable cones-
quences of globalisation.
2. Civil Society
The idea of civil society is deeply rooted in the tradition
of Western political thought. The term “civil society” can
be traced through the works of Cicero and other Romans
1Market Fundamentalism is the belief, prominent during the conserva-
tive ascendancy of the Reagan and Thatcher years tat free markets are
always the best way to resolve economic problems.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. BLR
The Role of Global Civil Society in Global Governance 207
and Greek philosophers. In modern political philosophy
it emerged along with the rise of capitalism and liberal
political thought. In the eighteenth century, the notion of
civil society was primarily understood as a political so-
ciety by thinkers like Hobbes and Locke and used to de-
scribe it as a “sphere of social activity” and distinguished
from the state (Pietrzyk [8]).
The concept of civil society has been defined by many
scholars in various ways. Hobbes has defined it as “a
creation and the application of force by the state to up-
hold the con tract and so forth (Copleston, [9])”. In L o ck e ’s
conception, civil society has two dimensions. On the first,
it provides redress and security against anarchy and arbi-
trariness of the “state of nature” and on the other, thro ugh
the devolution of leg islative powers “in collective bodies
of men, call them senate or parliament gives them secu-
rity against the arbitrariness of the govern ment (Ajit Roy,
German philosopher Hegel embraces the civil society
in the realm of economic interest, private property and in
totality of the material conditions of life. While conce-
ding the duality of political society (the state) and civil
society (material conditions of life), he stressed that the
concrete freedom consists in their identity (Marx, [10]).
In his work Philosophy of Right Hegel equated civil so-
ciety as a category clearly on a par with the family and
the state (Hegel, [11]). In his organic perspective, he
writes, “the state exists to protect common interests as it
defines them by intervening in the activities of civil so-
ciety (Hyden, [12])”. Hegel’s definition of civil society
follows the classical economists view of the free market:
“an association of members as self-subsistent individuals
in a universality, which, because of their self-subsistence,
is only abstract. Their association is brought about by
their needs, by the legal system—the means to security
of person and property—and by an external organization
for attaining their particular and common interests (Hegel,
Marx viewed, society as a whole as a bourgeois society.
Contrary to Hegel, Marx’ assumed that the state, which is
an instrument of ruling class, will disapp ear with the dis-
appearance of classes. “If for Hegel civil society should
resolved into the ethical universal entity of the state, Marx
resolves it into itself through the future negation of the
existent distinction between civil society and the state
and a future unity of human existence (Seligman, [14])”.
Antonio Gramsci writings have created the new inter-
est in civil society and its role and potentialities in con-
temporary socio political life. According to Gramsci,
“there are two major superstructural levels: the one that
can be called civil society that is the ensemble of orga-
nisms commonly called ‘private’ and that of political so-
ciety or the state (Gramsci, [16])”. These two levels cor-
respond on the one hand to the function of “hegemony”
in which the dominant group exercises throughout society
and on the other hand, of the direct domination or com-
mand exercised through the state (Gramsci, [15]). He
used this concept in his elaboration of politics vis-a-vis a
number of distinct spheres, such as conception of hege-
mony, war of position and war of manoeuvres, role of
intellectuals and so on.
The conceptual history of civil society provides a phi-
losophical perspective, which is indispensable for the
examination of the contemporary debate on civil society.
The civil society exists “when people make combined ef-
forts through voluntary associations to mould rules: both
official, formal, legal arrangements and informal social
constructs. In terms of membership, it encompasses enor-
mous diversity. It includes academic institutions, busi-
ness associations, development cooperation groups, envi-
ronmental campaigns, farmer’s groups, human rights advo-
cates, relief organisations, peace activists, professional
bodies, women’s networks, youth campaigns and more
(Scholte, [16])”. In terms of organisational forms, it in-
cludes formally constitute d and officially regist ered groups
as well as informal associations (Scholte, [16]). Thus the
civil society organisations are one that promotes the public
good, encourages empowerment and people’s participa-
3. Global Civil Society
Global Civil Society (GCS) has emerged as an aspect of
globalisation in the globalised world. Mary Kaldor de-
fines, “global civil society is about “civilising” or de-
mocratising globalisati on, about t he process through whic h
groups, movements and individuals somewhat can de-
mand a global rule of law, global justice and global em-
powerment (Kaldor, [17])”. Further, Kaldor, Anheier and
Glasius, have visualised that “the GCS both feeds on and
reacts to globalisation. This seems to be reflected in a
strong and positive correlation between clusters of globa-
lisation and clusters of GCS (Anheier, [18])”. They have
defined GCS as “the sphere of ideas, values, networks
and individuals located primarily o utside the institutional
complexes of family, market, and the state, and beyond
the confines of national societies, po lities and economies
(Kaldor, [19])”. The participants of GCS and their values
are “... at least in part, located in some transnational
arena and not bound or limited by nation-states or local
societies (Kaldor, [19])”. Thus GCS can be defined as the
sum of laws, policies and institutions that constitute, and
mediate trans-border relations between states, cultures,
citizens, intergovernmental and nongovernmental orga-
nisations and the market.
4. Nature of Global Civil Society
Global Civil Society has started to work to promote a
truly democratic and participatory public sphere at the
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. BLR
The Role of Global Civil Society in Global Governance
global level. In this sense, “it has becomes a global pub-
lic sphere comprising active citizenship, growing self-
organisation outside formal political geographies (Jenlink,
[20])”. GCS is also considered as a realm of socio-poli-
tical activity created domestically and internationally by
the expansion of cap italist social relations, where modern
social movements pursue their stated goals. The main
agencies associated to the rise of a GCS, are the INGOs
and transnational advocacy groups etc.
The civil society reflects its global nature in a real
sense when campaigns adopted by the transborder orga-
nisations especially International Non Governmental Or-
ganisations (INGOs), voluntary associations self orga-
nise with the purpose of resolving global problems and,
are motivated by sentiments of transnational solidarity
(Scholte, [16]). According to the Union of International
Associations “there were in 1998 some 16,500 active civic
bodies whose members are spread across several coun-
tries [21]”. There are some global bodies which are uni-
tary and centralised in nature, for instance, the World
Economic Forum (WEF), which assembles some 900
transborder companies under the motto of “entrepre-
neurship in the global public interest (Scholte, [16])”.
There are some global organisations, which are tempo-
rary in nature that pursues a campaign around a particular
issue. For example, on various occasions civil society
groups have combined forces with development and/or
environmental NGOs to lobby the World Bank on one or
the other of its projects which are reflecting negative
consequences (Fox and Brown, [22]).
Global Civil Society is primarily concern with the issues
that are transnational in nature. For example, in addres-
sing the issue of climate change, various civic associa-
tions and INGOs have campaigned on ecological pro-
blems, like the loss of biological diversity and the deple-
tion of ozone layer that have a supra-territorial impact
(Jan Aart Scholte, [23]). GCS has played an important
role in international politics. In the late 1990s, it gained
public visibility primarily as a popular resistance move-
ment challenging the institutions and policies of eco-
nomic globalisation. The term GCS was printed in a major
world newspaper in 1991, when Eduard Shevardnadze
[24] the then Sov iet Foreign Minister, saw the possibility
of a new world order based on the rule of law at the
global level. He wrote, “It seems to me that from an his-
torical perspective we are moving towards the formation
of a global civil society based on the precepts of law. If
this is the case, then it would be worth seeing whether we
couldn’t approach international problems and challenges
more or less in the way that democratic systems resolve
domestic issues (Shevardnadze, [24])”. The statement has
highlighted the importance of GCS.
There are several factors who have contributed in the
emergence of the concept of GCS. The capitalism, par-
ticularly through the integration of global financial mar-
kets has assumed a new global form (Coleman [25]).
Wapner [26] adds, “While many regions have possessed
market economies for centuries, there is now a globalised
marketplace in which individuals and corporations pro-
duce, transport, and sell products the world over. The
globalisation of markets circumscribes a domain across
national boundaries in which people can interact free
from complete governmental penetration and extends the
experience of private economic activity”. O’Brien [27],
in his study on Global Activism around World Economic
Institutions has described that “the increasing economic
interdependence amongst states is stimulating the process
of GCS. In addition, the states are currently confronting
many global problems such as climate change, stability
of financial markets, and the protection of human rights
that’s why they have moved to set up more and more
intergovernmental organisations, which are operating on
a global scale (O’Brien, [27])”.
Finally, GCS emerged as a major social force in the
late twenty century to resist an assault on public life and
democracy by the institutions of economic globalisation.
Initially, the resistance was centered on the Bretton
Woods Institutions (Vujad inovic [28]). Subsequ ently, the
resistance directed its attention to the glob al corporations
and the financial markets in the developed and develop-
ing regions. Consequently the high concentration of
global civil society organisations is found in the deve-
loped and developing world.
Global civil society organisations have raised many
questions concerning to contemporary global economy,
in relation to transborder production, trade, investment,
money and finance (Vujadinovic, [28]). The activism of
these organisations has been directed towards at global
governance agencies like the United Nations, the Bretton
Woods institutions, the Organisation for Economic Co-
operation and Development (OECD), and the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) (Vujadinovic, [28]. These institu-
tions are primarily concerned with the arena of global
5. Global Civil Society and
Global Governance
It is argued by many scholars that the globalisation is
altering the general position of the state. The rise of su-
praterritoriality has broken the state’s effective monopoly
on governance. As Scholte, [16] argued that “the elec-
tions centered on the state are not by themselves an ade-
quate expression of citizenship and democracy. After all,
substantial regulation now also occurs through public
multilateral agencies like the IMF and the Bank for In-
ternational Settlements (BIS) where the states have little
direct influence (Scholte, [16])”. The transnational net-
works of the civil society organisations, especially, the
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The Role of Global Civil Society in Global Governance 209
INGOs such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Ox-
fam International, have spread across national borders
and has served and serving as a source of governance
through dissemination of information, formation of open
forums for dialogue and debate, and advocacy of greater
democracy, transparency and accountability in govern-
mental and multilateral institutions (Patrick Hayden,
[29]). Global civil society has therefore come into central
role when citizens have attempted to acquire a greater
voice in post-sovereign governance.
The exponential growth of INGOs since the 1970s has
been matched by their increasing influence over diverse
aspects of international relations (Peter J. Spiro, [30]).
According to the Yearbook of International Organiza-
tions [31], the number of international NGOs has risen
from approximately 2795 in 1974, to 14,333 in 1989 to
20,851 in 2003. The time period of 1990s is very unique
in the sense that, the greater cumulative numbers of IN-
GOs as well as their greater willingness for direct in-
volvement in governance institutions as indicated by the
exponential growths in the number of INGOs. The r ise of
number’s shows that globalisation has certainly produced
a fresh wave of transnational activism which might rea-
sonably be described as constituting a GCS and new
frameworks of international political rule known as “g lo-
bal governance”.
The International relations theorists, James Rosenau
employed the theoretical dynamics of global governance
as a way to model the international system. The theories
of global governance draw attention to the increasing
importance of global civil society. The global gover-
nance is “an analytic concept that builds on and expands
prior neoliberal theories of international regimes or globa-
lisation (Meyer, [32])”. Global governance is generally
viewed as the management and resolution of global is-
sues within a political space that has no single centralised
authority. It is as an “efforts to bring more reliable and
orderly responses to social and political issues that go
beyond the capacities of states to address individually
(Gordenker and Weiss, [33])”. These definitions indi-
cates that the global governance deals with the interde-
pendent nature of decision making and the attempt by
actors to manage or produce more orderly responses to
common problems. Global Governance is generally re-
fers to problem-solving arrangements at the global level.
The influence of global civil society in international
relations has been increased in global governance. Global
governance theorists such as Leon Gordenker and Tho-
mas Weiss have spoken of the “pluralisation” of this
phenomenon through the incorporation of NGOs and
other non-state actors into the governance process. The
constituent NGOs working in different sectors can inter-
act with these organisations. As a consequence, grass-
roots groups get a voice and attempt to influence po-
licy-making (Gordenker and Weiss, [33]). Similarly, in
their study, Robert O’Brien, Jan Aart Scholte and Marc
Williams [34] have highlighted “the development of a
“complex multilateralism”,2 which, in response to GCS
Organisations pressure, has incrementally pluralised the
governing structures so that, multilateral economic insti-
tutions are moving beyond their inter-state mandates to
actively engage civil society actors in different coun-
tries.” The example is the role of International Tele-
communication Union (ITU), which assists in governing,
and setting standards in telecommunications issues among
countries (Kontrak Belajar, [36])”. The international re-
gimes are closely associated to the international organi-
sations and international treaties. However, international
regimes are institutions, which are non material pheno-
mena unlike other international organisations (Ryo Oshiba,
Gordenker and W eiss have recogn ised the role of G CS
organisations and their participation in the global gover-
nance. According to them “the NGOs participation can
be stretched back to the founding of the International La-
bour Organisation (ILO) in 1919 and the establishment
of the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council
(ECOSOC) in 1946 (Alejandro Colas, [35])”. It was the
ECOSOC that laid down the conditions of NGO accredit-
tation at the United Nations, which determined many of
the main features of the system as it still operates today
(Willetts, [38]). The UN Charter’s Article 71, [39] have
incorporates the provisions for the NGOs as a consulta-
tive status (Otto, [40]). It is simply to underline, how the
ECOSOC framework for NGOs consultative status has
been the basis of those UN world conferences on envi-
ronment Rio de Janeiro,1992, Human Rights Vienna, 1993,
and conference on women at Beijing, 1995, which have
reflected as representatives of the global civil society.
The transformative role of NGOs has becomes apparent
from these conferences (Alejandro Colas, [35]).
Ronaldo Munck states, “It is very significant that the
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions had
demanded a place at the “top table” at Copenhagen con-
ference in keeping with the International Labor Organi-
zation tripartism. It was only after the Copenhagen ev ent,
in which it eventually participated as part of the NGO
Forum, that the Internation al Trade Union movement be-
gan to conceive of itself as, effectively implication part
2O’Brien declares that their concept of “complex multilateralism” is
shift away from the conventional understanding of multilateralism; as a
asic institutional form coordinating relations amongst three or more
states. It originated in a desire to explore the relationship between multi-
lateral economic organisations and citizens. The practices of “complex
multilateralism” emerge whereby governance in these areas lies in the
contestation and cooperation between the WTO, member-states, other
intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and
civil society, and private business interests. This approach provides the
tools for dealing with the full range of actors involved, especially non-
state actors.
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The Role of Global Civil Society in Global Governance
of the GCS (Munck, [41])”. The report of the Commis-
sion on Global Governance 1995 made a first step pro-
posal for an annual World civil society forum linked with
the regular sessions of the UN General Assembly.
The Global Governance Commission 1995, proposed
that an annual forum of civil society should be held at
UN headquarter, and should consist of representatives of
civil society organisations accredited to the General As-
sembly. In the following years the proposal was included
on the agenda of the General Assembly’s working group
on the strengthening of the United Nations system. This
initiative was welcomed as “bold and imaginative” by
then UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who
advocated the creation of “representing associations” of
NGOs whose representatives would work with the United
Nations. [42]
The influential groups especially INGOs have became
an effective instrument of global governance (Munck,
[41]). “The governance has been viewed primarily as in-
tergovernmental relationships and it involves NGOs, citi-
zen’s movements, multinational corporations, and the
global market. The NGOs and intergovernmental orga-
nisations grope, som e tim es cooperatively, sometim es com-
petitively, sometimes in parallel towards a modicum of
global gover nance on its own wa y” (Gord enker & W eiss,
[43]). Thus global governance is an effort to bring colla-
boration and cooperation among governments and others
who seek to encourage common practices and goals in
addressing global issues (Gordenker & Weiss, [43]).
The government is the governing body of a nation or
community to rest with formal institutions and so on.
James Rosenau and Ernst-Otto Czempiel’s have argued
that “world affairs have shifted from a system of govern-
ment to governance retain s the notion that to gove rn is to
provide the institutionalised norms and frameworks for
action (Langley, [44])”. Global civil society is necessary
to provide accountability in a system of global gover-
nance because it is seen as outside of the government and
emerges as a domain that simultaneously reacts to the
“internationalisation” of the state. I affirm the views of
Alejandro Colas that “the agents of the GCS f ulfill a func-
tional or operational role as grassroots partners of multi-
lateral institutions in the administration of global gover-
nance” (Alejandro Colas, [35]).
6. Global Civil Society, Global Governance
and Nation State
There is an intense debate and divergent views on the
nature and future of the nation-state in the era of globa-
lisation. Some scholars views that there is a trend to-
wards the end of the nation-state or erosion/weakening of
the nation-state; others are held that there is a trend of
forced retreat of the welfare state, adaptation of nation-
state to the neoliberal globalisation, and finally some are
views that neither weakening nor end of nation-state and
the state is both victim and facilitator of globalisation.
The global citizen is represented more clearly and directly
not by governmental bodies but by a variety of organisa-
tions that are at least relatively independent of nation-
states (Hardt and Negri, [45]).
The expansion of the role of global civil society and
global governance should not be seen as the end of state
sovereignty. The institutions of global governance—many
social movements that operate within global civil society,
can and do engage with the institutions of global go-
vernance, and indeed influence the operation and poli-
cies of these institutions (Alejandro Colas, [35]). It is,
however, to insist that “th e interaction between GCS and
the institutions of global governance is still mediated
through the structure of state sovereignty in ways that
prevent the superficial domestic analogy between the sta te
and civil society on the one hand, and G CS as a counter-
part to international institutions of global governance on
the other (Alejandro Colas, [35])”.
The most influential formulation of this promise be-
hind globalisation is th e institutions of glob al governance
and global civil society, which is found in Held’s pro-
posals for “cosmopolitan democracy”. For Held, the con-
cept of “cosmopolitan democracy” refers to “a model of
political organisation in which citizens, wherever they are
located in the world, have a voice, input and political
representation in international affairs, in parallel with and
independently of their own governments (Held, [46])”. In
the debate of the decline/erosion of state sovereignty, I
have the same opinion as of Fred Halliday [47]. Accor-
ding to him, “the erosion of the Westphalian system rests
upon a contemporary optic and illusion.” The “new” non-
state actors in fact trace their heritage back to long before
the nation state Westphalian system. The current interest
in global civil society and global governance can be seen
as simply part of a parochial shift in International rela-
tions theory from the realist or statist perspective toward
a concern with non-state or civil society actors and issues
(Munck, [43] ).
7. Conclusions
Global Civil Society and global governance has become
important features of contemporary international rela-
tions. Global Civil Society provides mechanism for glo ba l
collaboration and coordination for resolving global pro-
blems. GCSOs organisations give voice and stimulate de-
bates amongst citizens on the various global conflicting
issues and making important contributions to the democ-
ratisation of global governance. GCSOs have been able
to exert an effective in fluence on policy-making at the in-
ternational level. These organisations are the means of
global governance and transforming the norms of inter-
national politics through providing more effective solu-
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The Role of Global Civil Society in Global Governance 211
tions to local problems than national governments or even
international organisations, and acting as a powerful coun-
ter—weight to traditional power politics.
Global civil society makes more aware of global issues
and playing a positive and balancing role between glo-
balisation and the natio n states. It can also contribute sig-
nificantly to the public education about global gover-
nance, thereby empowering citizens to involve themselves
meaningfully in the regulatory processes and can stimu-
late public debate about current and possible future courses
of global governance.
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