Phase 3 (Workshop 3 - Citizens, participation and the politics of 'market building' in Asia)

Traditionally, the term ‘citizen’ is closely associated with ‘civil society’, with the latter typically referring to the patterns of collective action of citizens distinct from the state and the market. From a Kantian perspective, variously organised citizens within civil society are potential forces of check and balance on ruling powers – the latter regularly associated with state and capital. However, in significant contrast, much of orthodox academia and public policy now views civil society and notions of citizenship as intimately related to the establishment of market society, with members of civil society conceived as market implementers and maintainers and individual citizens ‘free’ to be producers and consumers. While traditional notions of civil society assert its importance in defending people’s interests against the state and the private sector, the project to establish market society charts a functionalist role for civil society as a crucial element to compliment ‘enabling states’ and ‘ideal markets’. In this project, for example, non-governmental organisations involved in development issues are regularly categorised as ‘advocacy’ groups or ‘service delivery’ entities, with their respective inclusion in market society determined by their willingness or otherwise to participate in the market society project and accord with its norms. In short, the project to constitute market society requires the participation of citizens and civil society within certain boundaries, boundaries that demarcate a form of market citizenship.

Given that citizens and the organisations that they form are now key actors in the project of building liberal markets in Asia, it is necessary to look at the multifaceted roles of citizens and civil society in the process to constitute market society. Such an assessment is pertinent to understand the various aspects, aims, and activities of civil society groups and the evolving relationships between state and society more broadly. Notably, the functionalist characterisation of civil society attending market citizenship contrasts markedly in reality with the diverging ideological and material interests that characterise societies. Indeed, civil society exhibits myriad tensions and conflicts raising questions regarding the actual utility of a functionalist reading of civil society. Indeed, seen in this light, civil society has more in common with Gramsci’s conception of it – a contested zone crucial in determining politico-social hegemony. This begs questions regarding the (functional) purpose of incorporating civil society into the market building project in the first place (in the promotion of particular forms of public policy), not to mention the utility and impact of such incorporation. For example, does such a vision of civil society unrealistically mask the need in some cases for groups to pursue their interests via grasping power from other groups? What does it mean for the representation of citizen interests that some civil society organisations may have a close relationship to the private sector or to multilateral organisations while others are marginalised? Further, and interestingly, does the negation of politics inherent in the selective integration of civil society into the market society project mean that, ultimately, the project is doomed to failure? This volume accepts that while an active civil society may well be a precondition to establishing a participatory governance ‘that works’, it is important to question how civil society is presently conceived and by whom. Further, it is vital to understand what kind of activities said groups are involved in an era of market citizenship, how they emerge and evolve and what such activities mean for representation and the allocation of resources. In essence, these questions ask what ‘participatory governance’ actually means in terms of addressing the (un)equal opportunities of citizens to channel their aspirations, especially in relation to private actors and the state.

Given all of the above, Citizens and New Approaches to Building Markets in Asia will address three core research questions. Firstly, what are the roles that citizens play in the expansion of new markets in Asia? Secondly, how is citizenship and civil society reconstituted by the market society project? Third, what are the implications of the new ordering of interaction among the public sector, the private sector, and civil society upon citizens and notions of empowerment and representation? These questions open up myriad possibilities for important Asia-focused contributions. Building upon the existing discourses on the role of citizens in market society, the research phase exhibits the potential to make a key contribution towards understanding the diverse and political nature of civil society in Asia, its various encounters with market forces, the way it responds and acts, and also how it resists, gives way, and/or provides support to constituting market society.