Conferences, 4Rs 2008

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Belonging in Civil Society: views from the inside, glimpses from the outside
Hilary Yerbury

Last modified: 2008-08-30


One cannot talk of belonging in civil society without raising questions of what civil society is and what possibilities this offers for involvement. A number of young people, members of Generation X and Generation Y, have explored their understanding of belonging in civil society in interviews and in interactions in websites of non government and advocacy organisations and in social networking sites. Some see themselves as belonging through membership of organisations, while others consider that as civil society includes everyone the emphasis is on connecting, talking, responding, negotiating and belonging is about taking part. A third group express civil society as a way of being, based around a notion of living and acting in accord with one's beliefs and principles, whether moral or political. These views from the individual of their own sense of belonging are occasionally tempered by reflections from the perspectives of others. Analysis of these perspectives finds resonances in the literature, for example in Putnam's view of associational civil society, in Habermas's notion of the public sphere and in Giddens's lifestyle politics. The literature in turn highlights the limits of belonging and the potential for exclusion in each of these approaches. In a reflexive move, one recognises that these young people prefer to emphasise their own narrative of belonging at the same time as they acknowledge that others may not interpret their actions and interactions in the same way.

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