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The particular as universal, the real as ideal; the dream of civil society in a cross-cultural perspective Bayatrizi, Zohreh

Abstract

For many centuries the dream of civil society has projected what many societies have imagined as their ideal form of social and political life. It has also reflected the real social, economic, and political organisation of life in those societies. In an attempt to explore both of these aspects of the dream of civil society, this work brings together an etymological study of the concept of civil society, a historical analysis of the conditions of its emergence in eighteenth-century Western Europe, and a comparative analysis of its revival in contemporary Iran: as a source of hope and inspiration as well as an indication of changes in the ways in which people relate to each other, to their institutions, and to their history and traditions. The etymological study of the concept of civil society explores how dreams and realities have constantly shaped the meaning of the concept of civil society in several languages, including Greek, later German, English, and Persian. The more detailed studies of the conceptual formation and institutional organisation of civil society in eighteenth-century Western Europe and in contemporary Iran are designed to give a comparative perspective on how a conjuncture of transformations in worldviews, in social and political institutions, and in the configuration of classes can provide for the emergence of a particular concept and practice of civil society that reflect all of these transformations.

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