Does transnational civil society exist? If it does, what makes it different from national civil societies? Is it one transnational civil society, or many? And who is part of it? Everyone? Elites? Academics? Workers? Migrants?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but in recent years there are signs that the fabric of civil society is changing weave and changing shape: the speed of communication, the scale of supply chains and reach of multinational corporations, the increased movement of people are all one side of this; on the other side, the increased importance of non-national political institutions in deciding the crucial political questions, whether they be the IMF, world Bank, the UN or perhaps most profoundly, the European Union. Overarching all of this, the threats and challenges we face are manifestly transnational: public health, climate stability and human security amongst them. If civil society is about the interaction between people and politics in democracies, these changes all affect its dynamics, scales and practices. Transnational civil society organisations working specifically on democracy, like European Alternatives or Democracy International, have become more common in recent years, and coalitions like Citizens Takeover Europe try to find strategies for the civic and the political realms to come together across borders productively.
Other civil society movements and organisations have grown up contesting these transnational trends, calling for the primacy of national institutions and the restriction of public spheres. How to understand these fault lines and cleavages? How to foster a politics which brings these points of view into dialogue?