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Civil society is one of the most used - and abused - concepts in current political thinking. In this important collection of essays, the concept is subjected to rigorous analysis by an international team of contributors, all of whom seek to encourage the historical and comparative understanding of political thought. The volume is divided into two parts: the first section analyses the meaning of civil society in different theoretical traditions of Western philosophy. In the second section, contributors consider the theoretical and practical contexts in which the tion of civil society has been invoked in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These essays demonstrate how an influential Western idea like civil society is itself altered and invatively modified by the specific contexts of intellectual and practical life in the societies of the South.