This section includes book reviews of 600-900 words as well as book notes of 100-200 words on books of particular interest to the members of our group. If members either have a review that they consider of interest to the SG, or a recent book of their own, which they would like to see reviewed in the newsletter, they should contact Cas Mudde at: email@example.com. •
Jeffrey C. Alexander (ed.)., Real Civil Societies. Dilemmas of Institutionalization. London, etc.: Sage, 1998, 246 pp., £ 49.50 (cloth) / £ 16.00 (paper), ISBN 0-7619-5820-7 / 0-7619-5821-5.
Reviewed by Cas Mudde (University of Edinburgh) In the introductory chapter, the editor provides a short historical overview of the concept of ‘civil society’, outlining the different meanings through time, before presenting his own definition: "civil society as a sphere that is analytically independent of – and, to varying degrees, empirically differentiated from – not only the state and the market but other social spheres as well" (p.6). These other social spheres Alexander terms "non-civil spheres" – including also religion, science and the family – and it is the "civil and non-civil boundary relations" that are at the core of this edited volume. In the first chapter of part I (Uncivil Hierarchies), Elisa P. Reis uses the concept of ‘amoral familism’, developed by Edward Banfield in 1958 to denote "a situation in which social solidarity and the feeling of belonging did not extend beyond the home environment" (p.22), to argue that societies with high inequality structures impede the development of civil society (drawing upon the Latin American experience). In the second chapter, Michael Pusey, drawing on the example of Australia, uses a lot of rational choice jargon to argue (though hardly persuasively) his highly normative case that economic rationalism attacks civil society. Next, Luis Roniger makes a case for a revision of the view on patronage, arguing its potential value for democracy and civil society. And in the final chapter of this first part, Göran Ahrne addresses the relationship between civil society and uncivil organisations, arguing that "(t)he notion of civil society cannot be grasped inside any special type of organization – only in the interaction between a multitude of organizational forms" (p.94). In the excellent first chapter of part II (Bifurcating Discourses), Jeffrey Alexander provocatively discusses the polarising discourse of civil society, schematically laying out the dichotomies in the discursive structures of social motives, social relationships, and social institutions (Tables 6.1-3, pp.100-1). He argues that the three structures are related and together form the narratives of social communities. In a similar vein, and with some overlap, Philip Smith analyses and compares the discourses of fascism, communism, and democracy, concluding that "a dialectic of civility and barbarism lies beneath all three political systems" which "can be understood relationally as a series of transformations of a common underlying set of orienting concepts" (p.119). In the final chapter of part II, Ronald N. Jacobs applies the same framework in a very interesting comparative analysis of the coverage of the Watts and Rodney King crises in the main African-American and mainstream newspaper in Los Angeles. He argues that though the crises were covered differently by the two newspapers, they did share a ‘racial discourse of civil society’. The chapters in the third part (Arbitrary Foundings) have a European focus. In the first chapter, David Zaret argues that the development of print technology had the unintended effect of changing both the scope and the content of communication, thereby creating ‘public opinion’. In the second chapter, Piotr Sztompka discusses civil society in post-communist societies, mainly based on the (rather typical) case of Poland. He argues that though civil society has developed reasonably well in sociological and economical terms, the ‘Leninist legacy’ of distrust has prevented similar success in cultural terms. The book is finished by one of the more disappointing chapters, in which Víctor Pérez-Díaz discusses the difficulties involved in creating a ‘European civil society’. In a mix of critical analysis and normative statements, he comes to the not particularly remarkable conclusion that the development of a European (Union) civil society is hampered by the public’s focus on national matters, the "logic of self-interested nationalisms" (p.235) which prevails within the EU, and the lack of a European ‘community’ (feeling).