Governance Without Politics: Civil Society, Development and the Postcolonial State

Paula Chakravartty


In the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the G8 Summits and the World Bank, civil society organizations are often held up as the only legitimate institutional actors capable of representing and managing distributional inequities of a highly fractured information society. This paper locates the current role of civil society organizations in a longer history within the academic and policy fields of ‘development’ communications. While issues of access are clearly more central for Third World nations, this paper examines the social terrain behind the institutions of policy-making in the postcolonial contexts, specifically addressing debates between Southern and Northern perspectives in debates over the WSIS and the larger parameters of the Information Society. I argue that the dominant discourse on the digital divide—that between the North and South most generically—is rooted in assumptions about the neutrality of the category of civil society, devoid not just of history but of politics.

Full Text: