The debate about civil society within development has been largely influenced by a liberal theoretical tradition which views it as an autonomous collective space between the state and individuals where citizens can come together to debate the public good. It is thus seen as a key element of the democratic society.
More recently, with the rise of neo-liberal thinking within the development community, civil society organisations have been identified as a preferred private alternative to state service provision in contexts where markets are missing or imperfect.
There is however an alternative radical tradition which sees civil society as a product of the same structures of power that permeate underlie state society relations. Within this tradition, civil society organisations can be seen as holding conflicting views about states, markets and citizenship and engaging in actions which can challenge or uphold the status quo.