Roundtable discussion on: The Politics of Civil Society

January 1, 2015


Date: Saturday, 10 January 2014
Time: 230PM – 530PM
Venue: Conference Room, The University of Nottingham, Level 2 Chulan Tower, Jalan Conlay, KL


John Locke (1632-1704) proposed in his Second Treatise of Government a social contract theory of government and argued against the idea of “divine right”, which held that rulers had a legitimate claim on their office because they were God’s emissaries on earth.

Locke believed that government derived from an agreement between men to give up life in the state of nature in favor of life in a political or civil society. They set up political society in order to guarantee their natural rights: life, liberty, and estate or property. Locke’s emphasis on a social contract that protected natural rights shaped the views of the American revolutionaries.

And since the 1980s, the renaissance of civil society has introduced new ideas about the nature of power, citizenship and human rights, which radically challenge the dominance of the state and its power. While civil society groups perform valuable functions and can articulate a clear message, they do not seek to gain power and form a government. This is the function of the political parties, towards which end they offer policy choices and options for which are held accountable. And only through the political parties activities that there can be a competition for power that is the substance of democratic politics. Civil society can initiate a democratic transition; but only parties, with the help of civil society, can consolidate a democratic system and institutionalize a democratic political process.

Although civil society exists independently of the state, it is dependent on the state’s acceptance to be able to grow and flourish. People must have the freedom to associate, to speak freely, to publish, and to participate in social and political processes without fearing repercussions. Without such freedom, civil society will be stunted at best. And in the 21st century, the new communicative technologies have unleashed a tidal wave of civic protest that spread across the globe, bringing new political actors on to the street. But what does this civil movement mean? Are we on the threshold of a transformation in global political consciousness? Is civil society the necessary counter-power that is democratizing democracy from within? Or are we living through an apocalyptic terminal phase of civilization?


230-300PM: Registration
300-310PM: Welcoming speech by Prof Sean Matthews, Head of School, School of Modern languages and Cultures, University of Nottingham
310-320PM: Speech by moderator, Prof Zaharom Nain, Professor of Media and Communication Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Nottingham
320-400PM: Presentation on “The Politics of Civil Society” by Prof Meredith Weiss, Department of Political Science, University at Albany, State University of New York
400-410PM: Intervener I: YB Saari Sungib
410-420PM: Intervener II: Zainah Anwar
420-430PM: Intervener III: Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa
430-530PM: Discussion
530PM : Tea

Jointly organized by:
Islamic Renaissance Front(IRF) and The Nottingham University Malaysia Campus (UNMC)

In collaboration with:
The Centre for the Study of Communications and Culture, UNMC