Civil Society as a Postcolonial Project: Challenging Normative Notions in Post-conflict Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Simone Datzberger


External or international efforts to establish peace and foster sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa have been harshly critiqued for imposing “top-down” or culturally insensitive approaches to re-building these states. In response, there has been a burgeoning interest in the role and involvement of local civil society in peacebuilding and development processes among academics and practitioners alike. The “local turn” in peacebuilding and development research and practice notwithstanding, the accounts on the role, function, potential or activities of civil societies in peacebuilding processes seem to be largely detached from a considerable body of postcolonial literature that questions the appropriation of the concept of civil society in ‘non-Western’ environments. Against this backdrop, this chapter explores the consequences of applying a ‘Westernized’ and normative conception of civil society to sub-Saharan African post-conflict settings. It is divided into three main sections: The first part briefly discusses the term “civil society” as it emerged as an idea in ‘Western’ philosophy and the history of political thought. The second part sheds light on the utility of the concept of civil society in ‘non-Western’ contexts with a special focus on sub-Saharan Africa. The third part then addresses the adverse effects of normativity when it comes to approaching the concept of civil society in postcolonial and post-conflict equatorial Africa. The central argument will be that civil society in post-conflict sub-Saharan Africa has to be regarded as an empirical and not purely normative concept to enable local societies to come to terms with a colonial, postcolonial and conflict-shattered past.


Civil Society United Nations Development Programme Female Genital Mutilation Colonial Rule Normative Notion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marie-Curie Research Fellow, Department of Human Geography StudiesPlanning and International Development, University of AmsterdamAmsterdamNetherlands

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