Call edition 2012

A new edition of the Prize of the Belgian Development Cooperation has been launched. This call is open until March 31st, 2011. You can read in the regulations whether you comply with the criteria for participation.

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The invention of the civil society in Eastern Europe (Romania) and in sub-Saharan Africa (Benin)

Gautier PIROTTE researcher laureate

°1978 Belgium
Licence in sociology, Université de Liège, Belgium, 1996

L'invention des sociétés civiles en Europe de l'Est (Roumanie) et en Afrique subsaharienne (Bénin)

The literature on democratic transition processes is wide-ranging and extensive. Despite this, “cross-border” analyses are rarely conducted. European, Latin American, Asian or African transitions are regularly compared amongst themselves, but almost never with one another. This alone is enough to make this study an original one.
Gautier Pirotte compared the process of democratic transition in Romania and Benin. The author’s wide reading and erudition are immediately striking. He effortlessly combines literature from a wide range of academic disciplines and traditions. The comparative approach of two seemingly very different situations shows boldness. As the author focuses on a very specific topic – the role of civil society - he succeeds not only in conducting his analysis, but also in formulating conclusions which are relevant for the development issue.
The author has conducted a very thorough analysis – both theoretical and empirical – of the concept of civil society, which lies at the basis of a great many development projects, and is often used rather unthinkingly. The value of this thesis for the development policy is thus twofold. On the one hand, there is the theoretical clarification and relativisation of the crucial concept of civil society. On the other, there are at least two relevant empirical conclusions. The first one is that the so-called civil society is no longer a “counterforce” in the studied countries, but rather a collection of organisations that perform tasks not so different from those of the government. The second one is that civil society is not a representative reflection of society, but that it may even rather form a new elite.
‘L'invention des sociétés civiles en Europe de l'Est (Roumanie) et en Afrique subsaharienne (Bénin)’ is a fascinating piece of work. It shows signs of boldness and of a wide-ranging conception, maturity and a mastery of the literature. The work might possibly have gained in profundity from a sharper outline of the subject and the issue. Nevertheless, with an eye to the issue of the development policy, the dissertation supplements and nuances prevalent conceptions of the role, position and function of civil society in a welcome fashion.

report by Prof. P. Stouthuysen, Department of Political Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium