Global Civil Society and the Forces of Empire: The Salvation Army, British Imperialism, and the “Prehistory” of NGOs (ca. 1880–1920)

  • Harald Fischer-Tiné
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)


Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)1 play a pivotal role in the current debate on globalization. Particularly, critics of the asymmetrical economic and political relationships ensuing from the processes of intensified communication and exchange on a global scale warn of the new forces of Empire—that is, the hegemonic role of the United States and multinational trusts—in a new postcolonial and post-cold war world order.2 The establishment of a global civil society, would provide the only effective means of resistance to these perilous developments.3 The most recent world social fora held in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in 2004 and in Porto Alegre in 2005 served as powerful demonstrations of the resolution of countless movements and organizations from all over the world—including many NGOs—to strengthen local interests and check the impact of the alleged neoimperial forces. Recent scholarship has rightly criticized the lack of interest in the historical dimension of globalization4 that characterizes much of today’s political discourse on the issue. While there is an abundance of historiographical writing on the prehistory of states and nations, we know comparatively little about the historical trajectory taken by what is today termed global civil society. Transnational interaction and communication on a global scale, however, is not as recent a phenomenon as is commonly understood. According to Jürgen Osterhammel, the intensity of globalizing processes had reached a first peak by the end of the nineteenth century.5 This holds true not only for the economic, political, and cultural level, but also for the emerging religious and philanthropic organizations that could be seen as forerunners of today’s NGOs.6


Nongovernmental Organization Urban Poor Colonial Government Colonial State Global Civil Society 
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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© Sebastian Conrad and Dominic Sachsenmaier 2007

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  • Harald Fischer-Tiné

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