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The politics of civil societyBig society and small government$
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Fred Powell

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9781447307150

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447307150.001.0001

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Doublethink: the ‘Big Society, Small Government’ debate

Doublethink: the ‘Big Society, Small Government’ debate

(p.7) One Doublethink: the ‘Big Society, Small Government’ debate
The politics of civil society

Fred Powell

Policy Press

This opening chapter argues that the socio-political meaning of civil society as a ‘Big Society’ has become a central element in the debate about welfare reform, civic republicanism and political community. The chapter advances four narratives of civil society and examines their socio-political and institutional implications for renegotiating state-society relations. Narrative 1 examines ‘Big Society’ with Chinese Characteristics. Narrative 2 analyses British Conservatives’ advocacy of a welfare reform agenda that equates civil society with eighteenth century Burkian ‘Little Platoons’ in the modern form of voluntary associations, as an alternative to state welfare provision. Narrative 3 explores how social democracy has offered a Third Way through a neo-institutionalist model of social partnership and generative politics between an ‘enabling’ state, a resurgent market and civil society in the production of ‘modernised’ social services, based upon active citizenship. Narrative 4 discusses post-Marxist theorists of radical democracy and social activists who advocate ‘democratising democracy’ as a means to involving citizens in the delivery of social services in a new social contract between the state and civil society that envisages the co-production of welfare.

Keywords:   big society, small government, third way, postsocialism, radical democracy

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