From civil society to citizen society
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The character of civil society activism in Nepal—its discourses, its identities, and its practices—has changed several times over the course of two decades. In the 1990s, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and professional organizations were the major actors in the field of civil society, but their roles were largely subordinated to state goals. Beginning in early 2001, civil society activism exhibited a different character, and its public visibility increased dramatically and in more positive ways than in the previous period. As Nepal plunged into a deep political crisis, many new forms of organization and peace publics appeared. Activists associated with these organizations spoke the language of peace, neutrality, and objectivity; yet, they became radicals, and they, in turn, radicalized political discourse. Civil society activism appeared as a powerful force and public identity only in the course of the Second People’s Movement against King Gyanendra’s direct rule in 2005 and 2006, however. In the process, “civil society” became a household name. The King was forced to surrender to the movement in April 2006. This dissertation seeks to understand civil society activism in Nepal in three historical periods—1990-2000, 2001-2004, and 2005-2006. Focusing on three groups of civil society activists—professional organizations, autonomous citizen groups, and the local NGOs, I asks how and why civil society activism took different forms and characters at different historical periods. Drawing on civil society, social movement, and relational sociology literature, I argue that the nature of the evolving political field and the struggle over the meaning of civil society best explain the trajectory of civil society activism in Nepal. This study departs considerably from the existing approaches to civil society and citizenship studies.