NGOs, civil society and the state: avoiding theoretical extremes in real world issues

The standard models of the state and civil society balancing each other, as propounded by de Tocqueville, Hegel and Gramsci, are no longer useful in all cases when thinking about the relationship between the state, civil society and NGOs. The emergence in many countries of a weak state and relatively strong civil society organisations has led to NGOs filling the gaps in the provision of services which should nominally be provided by the state. The dangers of this are well-documented, and the author argues that NGOs should be seeking to strengthen the capacity of the state to perform these functions, as well as nurturing civil society.