If ‘development’ and ‘democracy’ were watchwords for generations of political analysts and policy makers during much of the Cold War era, contemporary debates have focused attention on a new would-be ‘elective affinity’ – that of ‘globalization’ and ‘global civil society’. In terms of actual existing instances of a ‘global civil society’, organizations such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Transparency International, and their respective local affiliates, have become cause célèbres in their own right. In this vein, such transnational ‘secondary’ associations have also become inextricably associated with certain hopes and claims, whether focused on the promotion of a ‘green’ environment, human rights or good governance.
Beyond celebrating or even evaluating the significance of such phenomena on their own terms, as political discourse and strategy, it remains important to probe the notion of ‘global civil society’ itself. To that end, the analytical-philosophical question, rather than the political-activist one, must focus on unpacking the mobilization of hopes and claims in the name of civil society: Who can successfully do so? When? Where? And how? Locating ‘global/civil society’ in a wider social context, with particular attention to class formation, suggests a critical point of departure for such an investigation. In the case of Southeast Asia, for example, it is possible to identify important cross- national synchronic variations in the region between, on the one hand, the Philippines and Thailand, and, on the other, Indonesia and Malaysia (Hedman 2001: 921–952). That is, the early assimilation of local Chinese populations in the Philippines and Thailand, compared to Indonesia and Malaysia, has allowed for the relative prominence of an emerging national capitalist class in the mobilization of ‘People Power’ protests against the regimes in Manila (1986, 2001) and Bangkok (1992), while their counterparts in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur have remained conspicuously absent in the analogous Reformasi movements of 1998.
While similarly concerned to anchor what is typically viewed as a strangely apolitical and horizontal sphere of voluntarism and spontaneity – ‘civil society’ – within a wider social context, this paper pursues a diachronic analysis of class formation and its implications for collective mobilization in the name of civil society.