Research Handbook on Global Administrative Law
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Research Handbook on Global Administrative Law

Edited by Sabino Cassese

This Handbook explores the main themes and topics of the emerging field of Global Administrative Law with contributions by leading scholars and experts from universities and organizations around the world. The variety of the subjects addressed and the internationality of the Handbook’s perspectives make for a truly global and multi-dimensional view of the field.
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Chapter 15: Theories of civil society and Global Administrative Law: the case of the World Bank and international development

Francesca Bignami


For over two decades, the concept of civil society has informed institutional design in the international realm. Empowering civil society has served as a key rhetorical and policy response to the criticism that the social and economic processes of globalization and the international organizations that have emerged to govern the global realm are illegitimate, elite driven, and anti-democratic. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the majority of the Global Administrative Law (GAL) that exists today can be understood as the historical product of institutional reform designed to empower civil society. Civil society, however, is a notoriously ambiguous concept. In most contemporary legal and political theory it is believed to be an important component of a fair and stable political community and therefore essential to the good life. It is also generally, although certainly not universally, used to refer to a sphere that is relatively free of the state and the market, populated by voluntary associations through which individuals join together to pursue their common interests and express their common identities. Beyond that, however, there is little consensus. How civil society contributes to democracy and what particular forms of civil society – sometimes in league with other societal actors – are important for democracy and good governance vary considerably among the different theories of how to organize the collective life of a political community.

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