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The research programme looks at four European countries, which allows for comparing features and composition of civil society elites, and identifying mechanisms and processes that lead to elite consolidation and elites contestation in different national contexts. Moreover the programme includes the study of civil society organisations operating at the EU level.


Italy follows a corporatist tradition and Italian civil society has gravitated around large actors such as the Catholic Church and the labour movement. Large umbrella organizations operating at regional and national levels have been key actors, yet increasingly challenged by professional social cooperatives enngaged in service production. The recent financial crisis has fueled this gap in Italian civil society.


Poland is a post-socialist country and Polish civil society can best be understood as 'recombined', meaning that pre- and post-1989 organizational forms and types of civic engagement coexist and sometimes compete within a transforming political, social and economic environment. Contemporary Polish civil society is characterized by low levels of social trust and potential for mobilization and in contrast to the other three cases, less imbued by large formal organisations. Moreover, there are indications of a new phase in Polish civil society, with a revival of grassroots activism against established actors and politicians, exemplified by mass protests organized by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy in 2015-2016. 


Sweden builds on the traditions of a Social Demoncratic state and Swedish civil society is characterized by a relatively large number of formal organisations and a large part of the population being members of such organisations. There is a strong pattern of fairly close and cordial relationships between civil society leaders and leading politicians, but less so with the business sectors. More recently, however, there has been an orientation towards professional service-oriented organisations and weakened connections with the state. One assumption is that this opens up for a plurality of elite groups in civil society.

United Kingdom

The UK follows a liberal tradition and the field of civil society organizations has been formed by the laws of the Charity Commission set up by the mid-19th century. The law emphasized that charities provide support and social services but hindered registered charities from being openly political. the the early 2000s the government encouraged partnerships between the state and civil society, resulting in capacity building (leadership, manageent) of CSOs and increased funding. Thus, the sector in the UK is highly professionalized. Furthermore, current debates point at a divide between insiders, well-funded CSOs, and outsiders, less well-established community groups, where the former can enjoy priviliged access to media and policy-makers.


Håkan Johansson
Professor & Principal Investigator (PI)
School of Social Work
Lund University

Mobile: +46 (0)70 849 48 67
Phone: +46 (0)46 222 09 88
Email: hakan [dot] johansson [at] soch [dot] lu [dot] se