Refractions of civil Society – University of Copenhagen

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Refractions of civil Society

Perceptions of civil Society and senses of agency among civic activists in Turkey

PhD Thesis by Daniella Kuzmanovic, Centre for Comparative Cultural Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, 2009

The project was financed by the Danish Research Agency for The Humanities and affiliated The Research School for Anthropology and Ethnography

Superviser: Dr.phil. Esther Fihl, Centre for Comparative Cultural Studies


This thesis is about the relationship between human agency and civil society. It argues for an analytical reconceptualisation of the relationship, in order to better comprehend how come civil society as idea and mode of sociality holds such significance to people around the world. The general theme is explored by way of ethnographic data from fieldwork in Turkey. The fieldwork focussed on exploring various social uses of civil society, and the many, sometimes contradictory, perceptions and practices of civil society. The thesis shows how civil society is a contested concept which is defined through the way in which it becomes part of a variety of socio-cultural contexts.

The underlying question, which has served as an incentive throughout the work on this thesis, though, has been how to integrate these various localised perceptions and practices of civil society at an analytical-theoretical level, thus contributing with general insights pertaining to human living. In relation to this, the thesis emphasises an experiential-existential aspect by pointing to how the various uses of civil society involve the production of various experiences of agency. However, it is argued, these various experiences all refract a sense of agency in the existential sense - that is pertaining to an experience of social being. Such a sense of agency is constantly produced, reproduced and shaped through the social.

The chapters deal with different aspects of the social through which various perceptions and practices of civil society emerge and various experiences of agency are shaped in a Turkish context. First, it deals with the significance of categories and categorising. Secondly, it looks at aspects of the significance of ideas of the state. Thirdly, it emphasises the role of the notion of part of reality as hidden yet discernable. Fourthly, it turns to the impact of the project culture.

The thesis makes two overall contributions. With regard to social studies on Turkey the thesis contributes by pointing to the variety of perceptions of civil society and how these are produced through the way in which civil society associated to various socio-cultural contexts and conceptions. With regard to an analytical-theoretical aspect the thesis contributes by suggesting how a reconceptualisation of the relationship between civil society and human agency allows us to move from particular perceptions to general issues of what it means to be human.