This paper seeks to problematize the dominant discourse and practice around civil society from a Southern perspective. We first critically examine the way in which the concept of civil society has been deployed in development discourse. This highlights its highly normative and North-centric epistemology and perspectives. We also find it to be highly restrictive in a Southern context insofar as it reads out much of the grassroots social interaction deemed ‘uncivil’ and thus not part of civil society.
Subsequent sections introduce a historical analysis of civil society development and a preliminary mapping of current civil society in Mozambique which begins to set out a more complex understanding of civil society, a concept sometimes reduced to the world of the NGO’s. This is followed by a report on a recent roundtable discussion with civil society actors in Mozambique that sparked our interest in this theme. This discussion also articulates a more complex and conflictual understanding of civil society than that held by many international NGO’s for example. Finally, we discuss some of the matters arising from our movement from the abstract (the deconstruction of the concept of civil society) to the concrete (our conversations with a range of civil society actors). This work is the start of a broad longer term project with partners in Mozambique seeking to map and thus better understand the complexity of civil society in a country widely seen as test case for development strategies