Annika Elena Poppe, Jonas Wolff | 2017

The contested spaces of civil society in a plural world: norm contestation in the debate about restrictions on international civil society support

in: Contemporary Politics, published online: 21 June 2017.

Civil society organizations are facing increasing political restrictions all over the world. Frequently, these restrictions apply to the foreign funding of NGOs and thus curtail the space for external civil society support, which, since the 1990s, has become a key element in international democracy and human rights promotion. This so-called ‘closing space’ phenomenon has received growing attention by civil society activists, policymakers and academics. Existing studies (and political responses), however, neglect the crucial normative dimension of the problem at hand: As we show, the political controversy over civil society support is characterized by norm contestation, and this contestation reveals competing perceptions of in/justice and touches upon core principles of contemporary world order. Taking this dimension into account is essential if we are to academically understand, and politically respond to, the ‘closing space’ challenge. It is also highly relevant with regard to current debates on how to conceptualize and construct order in a world that is plural in many regards and in which liberal norms are fundamentally contested. Empirically, the paper combines an assessment of the global debate about closing space in the UN Human Rights Council with an analysis of a specific controversy over the issue in US-Egyptian relations.

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