The key question of this study is whether the originally Western concept of civil society can be transferred to other domestic settings. Is it at all feasible to stimulate, nurture and strengthen civil society from abroad? Is civil society not inevitably an indigenous product, enshrined in the historical and cultural roots of a nation? The question is thus how far can civil society “travel”. And if it can travel, how far does the fact that travel expenses are paid by external actors inhibit the chances of traveling? In brief, is a transfer of civil society feasible, and if yes, under what conditions and with what outcomes?
The following chapter theoretically approaches these questions and concerns. As pointed out in chapter 3, civil society assistance is understood as an externally driven intentional attempt to transfer a certain image, i.e. civil society, from one place to another. Civil society assistance thus refers to a transfer of formal and informal structures, namely civil society organizations on the one hand and civil values and norms on the other hand, that have proven valuable in the ‘Western’ world. The chapter starts with an overview of two basic approaches to civil society assistance that provide divergent answers to the question to what extent is an intentional transfer of civil society feasible. Following a more detailed description of a sociological understanding of institutions, I subsequently highlight the basic problems and dilemmas inherent to external efforts to assist civil society. Finally, conditions facilitating intentional transfer from without will be identified.
In the few theoretical discussions of civil society assistance two distinct approaches to the questions above can be identified. The first is based on neo-liberal thinking and puts actors and their choices in the center of analysis. The second, however, follows a sociological line of thought and places greater emphasis on structures and cultures.71 According to the former approach, civil society assistance is seen as a promising device for promoting and stabilizing democratization processes. This assessment is based on the conviction that external actors transfer missing links into transforming societies. In this perspective, external assistance and aid possess at least the potential to provide a valuable contribution to democratization. The sociological approach, in contrast, views civil society assistance as a donor driven and donor dominated transaction that either risks rejection or is followed by recipient opportunism and is in either case bound to fail. The two distinct approaches have also been labeled with the self-explaining terms of engineering versus gardening. The former stresses the point that institution building is regarded as a manageable enterprise, whereas the latter points to the importance of grown structures and the longevity of institutions.
Following a neo-liberal perspective, aid and assistance have been understood as a transmission belt that transplants missing links, in this case civil society into domestic contexts (Wedel 1998: 8). In this view, democratic change may be pictured as the reconstruction of an old house that is brought down and rebuilt on the same spot. Some of the old parts of the house that still function and live up to the expectations of the architect may be used again, but most of them are rebuilt differently, modernized and brought in line with a blueprint sketched out on the drawing table. Whether reconstruction will be a success, in the sense that it results in a stable and functional house, is foremost dependent on the skills of the architect, on good planning and on the quality of the blueprint. Democratic change is thus nothing more than a question of design. Institutional design determines the effectiveness and performance of institutions and since it is assumed that democracy consolidates when based on institutions capable to fulfill their major tasks, design subsequently is a decisive element in the successful completion of political change. As designs are usually copies (Offe 1995), democratization translates into nothing more than institutional modeling. Neo-liberal approaches to democratization thus regard the transfer of institutions, concepts or ideas as an effective mechanism for setting up proper institutions (Jacoby 2000: 3). If we return to our picture of the democratic house, civil society is seen as an important building block guaranteeing the stability of the new house. Today’s designers emphasize functions of civil society that stabilize and supplement political institutions. Emphasis is given to the conflict resolution capacities of civil society and intermediary structures. Moreover, civil society organizations are taken as more efficient than state bodies in performing services.72 Along these lines, the establishment of a plurality of associations and non-governmental organizations, as civil society is largely understood, will automatically be followed by a stable and consolidated democracy. The major question of concern is thus not whether a transfer is feasible, but how it is best done. The “question of strategy” (Carothers 1997) stands in the forefront, hence the question “how to devise effective strategies to support a wide variety of democratization processes” (Santiso 2001: 1). It thus hardly comes as surprise that various studies on civil society assistance mainly provide an analysis of donors, their strategies, projects and programs.73 Although the donor perspective is an important step in any analysis of political or economic assistance, the sole focus on projects and programs reduces assistance merely to the business of right strategies and best practices. Recipient interests and contexts are widely ignored.
By contrast, sociological or cultural approaches to civil society assistance stress the importance of domestic contexts and recipient responses. From this perspective, external assistance is regarded as a doomed effort that in the best case produces paper results or risks rejection and in the worst case results in nationalist backlashes and democratic reverse waves. Following a sociological interpretation, democratization is subject to path-dependency. Institutions are not rebuilt after a tabula rasa. Instead rules and norms are internalized by the people that live and act under them. Actors and their choices are seen as a unit of analysis with little significance as human action is highly influenced and determined by institutions. The approach proceeds from the assumption that “behavior is not fully strategic but bounded by an individual’s worldview” (Hall/Taylor 1996: 955). Institutions thus do not only provide necessary information and determine actors’ expectations about policy outcomes and the actions of others, they also provide moral templates and culturally defined “scripts” that do not only structure actions but also define the internal beliefs, cognitive maps and subsequently the preferences of actors (ibid, Scharpf 1997: 21). As a result, institutional change cannot be made by scratch following a previously created design. Institutions are instead resistent to change and when change occurs, it is a long process with an uncertain outcome. Hence, civil society is an indigenous product that does not only rely on formal institutions and associations but depends as well on a certain civic ethos or Sittlichkeit. Tolerance and trust that transcend beyond the circle of family and friends are inevitable values of civil society that make democracy endure in complex societies.74 A culture based on such values cannot be transplanted from the outside, rather is the result of a long historical and cultural development. A sociological approach to civil society assistance thus conceives neither the concept of civil society assistance, nor the strategy of donors, nor the project management as decisive factors determining the effect of external assistance. How the assistance is perceived, accepted and adapted by the recipients is mainly decisive. Recipient responses determine the implementation and thus the actual outcome, in contrast to the output, of the assistance granted:
”However powerful external signals and levers may be, it is where and how they are received internally that proves decisive“ (Pravda 2001: 15).
From this standpoint, external assistance to civil society remains without a lasting impact and results in the establishment of ’DONGOs’ (donor driven NGOs), Quangos’ (quasi-NGOs) or “GONGOs” (government organized NGOs). In other words, the supported NGOs are not independent but solely function as puppets either of donors or of the recipient state. Civil society assistance merely supports “some favored cliques” (Wedel 1998), who strive for the pursuit of their own wealth instead of the common good, and who orientate their actions towards donor promises instead of their constituencies’ needs. What evolves is nothing more than a supplementary stratum of Western oriented NGOs detached from society and domestic worries. As a consequence, civil society assistance breeds recipient opportunism and hypocrisy. The lofty goals of donors are followed by meager results (Quigley 2000). On top of that, civil society assistance may also result in negative effects. The privileged status of the beneficiaries of aid evokes envy. Main recipients may be regarded as “bridgeheads of alien influence” (Abele / Offe 2002). The external activities are not always welcomed as needed assistance rather as an unwanted intrusion into their internal affairs. National backlashes are the likely consequence.
This study will follow neither the first nor the second line of argument as both reveal certain shortcomings that minimize their usefulness as an analytical framework for this study. The neo-liberal approach with its emphasis on the functions of a template on the one hand and the value of these functions for recipients on the other is inappropriate for grasping the peculiar character of different domestic responses to external pressures. The main question of concern of this line of thought is whether concepts and institutions are “fit” for transfer (Rose 1993: 98)75 and thus why they travel, and not to what extent and with what outcomes. The focus is placed exclusively on the externally driven transfer taking place in a kind of ‘institutional modeling’. Such accounts are thus restricted to an analysis of the export side of the transfer, leaving half of the picture aside. Divergent responses to seemingly similar pressures and varying outcomes are, however, the major puzzle for anyone interested in civil society assistance. Neo-liberal accounts of civil society assistance are for all these reasons not capable of explaining the complex and interactive processes of international pressures and domestic responses.
Moreover, empirical studies demonstrate that the actors involved in a transfer process are not guided by strategic calculations. In his study on policy transfer between the US and Britain, Wolman (1992) points out that the search for information about different political programs is not carried out in a structured and efficient way but takes place quite arbitrary (ibid: 31). The absence of an assessment of the effects of the program in the country of origin and the lacking awareness of the different conditions in the borrowing country prove that the effectiveness of the borrowed policy is not important for the borrowers (ibid: 35). The reason for the transfer lies in the fact that foreign concepts seem to be more easily accepted at home. In his study on the motives of states to utilize foreign experience Bennett (1991: 33) comes to similar conclusions. He names three different motives beside the search for effectiveness: (1) domestic actors use foreign evidence for reasons of agenda-setting; (2) to mollify political pressure; (3) to legitimate conclusions already reached. Radaelli (1997) also points to the need for legitimate decisions as the main explanatory variable in his study on the promotion of policy transfer in the EU by EU institutions. Finally, as shown above, approaches that ignore the cultural basis of civil society, underlying social norms and cultural values, fail to live up to the normative concept of civil society (see chapter 2.2).
For all these reasons a sociological approach to civil society assistance seems more apt to identify varying domestic outcomes of civil society assistance. The dissertation thus draws on a sociological understanding of institutions and on the importance given to recipient contexts. One must note, however, that a sociological approach to civil society assistance that primarily draws on rigid structures and cultures, but leaves no room for change renders any analysis of civil society assistance a pointless enterprise. The dissertation thus aims to identify conditions of change and challenges the hypothesis that external efforts to assist civil society development are bound to fail.
In line with actor-centered institutionalism this study stresses the role of actors and identifies more precisely the conditions under which change occurs. In other words, what circumstances and conditions facilitate the transfer of civil society? What makes it possible for civil society to travel? These questions are approached in the following steps. First, I describe the sociological understanding of institutions as well as the relationship between actors and structures as understood in sociological neo-institutionalism in greater detail, as the analytical framework developed in the remainder of this chapter draws on the basic assumptions of a sociological understanding of institutions. Secondly, implications for civil society assistance will be derived and the problems inherent in the transfer of concepts, ideas and institutions from one place to another identified. Finally, I identify conditions that facilitate intentional transfer from abroad. In doing so, great emphasis will be placed on actors acting within institutional settings and on the possibility of learning.
This study follows a sociological understanding of institutions that stresses the ‘dual nature’ of institutions (Offe 1995).76 From this standpoint, institutions are more than a simple instrument established in order to serve certain functions, to cope with special problems and to extract the resources needed to accomplish stated objectives. Institutions evolve not only in order to create the most efficient structure to perform certain tasks, but also generate norms and principles about what ought to be done, what is to be regarded as normal and what behavior can be expected from others acting under the same institution. In other words, besides the formal regulations and rules ensuring effectiveness, institutions embody the normative principles of those who live in or under them (Offe 1995: 299). Through this, ‘socializing function’ institutions coordinate action, guide behavior and create purposes for action. Such norms are often not fixed in writing but are informal practices and common knowledge, which are lived and re-lived and slowly generated through habitual action and recognition. They incorporate on the one hand a normative basis from which the institution derives its legitimacy and on the other hand provide the institution’s members with shared cognitive and normative orientations. Institutions thus consist of two components (Offe 1995): a formal feature unveiled in formal structures based on written rules and specialized roles, and an informal feature based on common practice, daily routines and a shared understanding. In result, the continuing existence of institutions further depends on their ability to perform two functions: to achieve internal socialization and external effectiveness.
The advantage of the outlined ‘second nature’ is obvious: it establishes order and provides orientation without an abundance of written regulations and rules. Moreover, by providing normative orientations, institutions generate support and loyalty as well as a sense of belonging. In doing so, they socialize and integrate their members. The inherent problematic is, however, also not difficult to depict. This self-enforcement of rules and routines results in rigidity and resistance to change. Institutions tend to be stable and persistent to change. This is due to a simple mechanism: Actors react to novelties while using old routines and adapting them to the new situation or better adapting the situation to the routines (March/Olson 1989: 34). Even after a radical change, longstanding norms and habits persist. The institutionalized rules and norms are internalized by the members of the institutions. As a result, institutions are ‘given’ in the sense that they are neither questioned nor aware. Institutions regulate action in a way the actors are unaware of. Hence, they also regulate the action that attempts to foster institutional change. In the words of March/Olson (1989): action follows the “logic of appropriateness” (March/Olson 1989). Action is not determined by hierarchical preferences of actors that pursue their own interests. Rather, actors chose actions that are most appropriate with regard to the situation they are in and the position or role they hold inside the institution (ibid.: 23). Action is constrained by institutions, rules, the membership, position and role of the individual in question. Hence, preferences of agents are determined by institutions, existing rules, and norms, as actors seek to achieve some kind of cognitive consistency and a reinforcement of already existing belief systems. According to the sociological understanding of the term, institutions are thus conceptualized in broad terms as the definition encompasses not only formal and written rules and regulations, but particularly stresses the informal rules, norms, and cultural standards that are inevitable parts of institutions.
So what does this imply for the externally driven transfer of structures and norms, in this case, civil society assistance? Firstly, an actor who attempts to transfer institutions faces the same problem as one aiming to re-design institutions: The problem of making a habit of new things, of rationally creating the irrational, of doing what can not be done.
Institutions derive the support and loyalty of their members and their legitimacy from tradition, habits, convention, normative theories, or “animating ideas” (Goodin 1996: 26, Offe 1996: 215). The agency once involved in establishing institutions has long been forgotten. Legitimacy is derived from the fact that ‘something has always been like that’ or that ‘something is proved to be good like that’ and out of the fact that it is not man-made but stands above agency. An attached agency, in contrast, leads to the suspicion of particular individual interests, manipulation, enrichment or imperfection. According to classical political theory, this dilemma between agency and institutions is overcome by pointing to “unmoved movers”, “unruled rulers” or a non-institutionalized designer of institutions from whose decisions institutions emerge. Examples are Machiavelli’s Prince, Rousseau’s legislator or the charismatic leader by Weber (Offe 2000b). The argument is that if a founder is involved, at least he or she is legitimate due to an apparent superiority and outstanding capacities and because s/he strives for the common good and not for his/her own personal interest. A further example of this dilemma is founding legends which often are built around the origin of institutions.
The traditional and “naturelike” (Offe 1995: 207) character of institutions has far reaching consequences for civil society assistance. An institutional template coming from abroad, which is also being transplanted by an external agent, who follows his own interests can seriously inhibit the legitimacy of the institution and is likely to lead to outright rejection. Civil society assistance, like any political assistance aimed at transforming the political structure of a society, consequently always risks being perceived as illegitimate. This even more so, as civil society assistance is always interest-driven and selective, as pointed out in chapter three. For all these reasons, people doubt that external donors have altruistic motives and fear external manipulation. As a result they may refuse external assistance and advice.
Besides the problem of legitimacy actors involved in institutional transfer encounter a second dilemma. One has to note that transfer targets at a change in the two dimensions of institutions: the formal and the informal dimension; the hardware and the software component of institutions. The informal dimension of institutions, the underlying traditions, cognitive scripts or normative theories are, however, not easily altered in an intentional manner. In the words of Claus Offe (1995: 202):
“Institutions … inculcate duties and generate outcomes. In order to generate the outcomes, they must rely on cognitive and moral resources which in their turn, however, are not to be created by administrative fiat. “There is no administrative production of meaning” (Habermas 1975, p. 70…). Consequently, whoever wishes to advocate, design, construct change, or criticize institutions will have to bear in mind this dualism and the inherent limits of potential control over meaning.”
One must thus remain alert of the fact that the formal rules of institutions are more easily transferred than the underlying principles, norms and rules. In many cases the transfer is therefore limited to the “hardware” or formal side of institutions: organizational patterns, formal rules and technical devices are provided. Such a partial transfer lacks, however, the underlying principles that determine actors’ expectations and behavior. The likely outcomes are therefore not effective institutions that operate in the same manner as in their place of origin. In his study on the screening process of the EU in CEE, Jacoby comes to the conclusion, that the transfer of Western-style institutions is a process that often produces unintended and unforeseeable effects (Jacoby 1998). Jacoby demonstrates that the EU screening process which monitors the adoption of the aquis communitaire by the EU accession states largely leads to increased organizational complexity and does not improve institutional functioning. Institutional transfer in this case thus only adds a supplemental layer of institutional complexity to preexisting practices. The major effect, at least in the eyes of the recipients, is not an increase in effectiveness, but a gain in international credibility.
An even more pessimistic scenario proceeds from the contention that transferred structures might well be incompatible with persistent normative and cognitive standards of former institutional settings. In this case, grown routines and informal structures will prevent easy adaptation to exogenous pressures. In the worst case, the rejection of the new structures will be the likely consequence. Such was the fear of many German analysts working on institutional transfer from West to East Germany after unification. It was widely assumed that the formal structures – the hardware of institutions – could be transferred, whereas the embeddedness of those formal structures into the socio-cultural environment which is indispensable for the proper functioning of institutions – the software so to speak – cannot be transferred and is a fixed variable (Eisen (1996: 7). The different socio-cultural basis in Eastern Germany invokes the risk of rejection (see e.g. Offe 1994: 46). Institutional transfer is thus always institutional hybridization and results in “formal institutions with informal practices” (Olson 1999).
The inevitable consequence this contemplation suggests is that the transfer of institutional patterns is a very uncertain and risky enterprise. The endeavors to transplant certain structures, procedures, rules, regulations and norms into different settings is bound to fail due to the rigidity of institutions on the one hand, and the illegitimacy of externally driven reform on the other. Activities of external actors aiming to transform and reform domestic structures that follow an externally operating institutional template, risk rejection and failure or will lead to ‘supplementary social stratums’ disconnected to society or other political or social institutions. A sociological understanding of institutions thus confirms our suspicion that civl society assistance is more likely to transfer the structural features of civil society, i.e. the NGO sector, while external actors inevitably fail to install a cultural dimension of civil society. Moreover the “civilizational incompetence” of CEE citizens will prevent the adaptation of necessary moral qualities and behavioral patterns that make a vibrant civil society (see chapter 2). In result, the organizations supported from abroad are not embedded in the domestic political and social structure, not aligned with their original constituencies and are perceived by the domestic population as ‘bridgeheads of alien influence’. In the words of Claus Offe:
“… the civic ‘spirit’ or ‘mental software’ that is needed to drive the hardware of the new institutions is less easily influenced by external interventions (than democratic institutions and economic resources)…. The rise of a robust ‘civil society’ cannot be initiated from the outside” (Offe 2000a: 96).
Thus, if the contention holds true, should the author accept the fact that institutional transfer as well as civil society assistance is doomed to fail and abstain from a fruitless and redundant empirical analysis? Surely not. The aim of this study is to challenge this hypothesis. It does not intend to demonstrate that transfer is an easy enterprise resulting in easily achieved success stories. Not at all - too many studies prove that transfer is a difficult process facing many drawbacks and obstacles. However, the study aims to challenge the hypothesis that transfer is inevitably bound to fail. It therefore aims to demonstrate that transfer is feasible if certain conditions apply.
To accomplish the task of identifying conditions for transfer the project faces the problem of incorporating external and internal factors into the analysis. On the one hand, the external ‘push’, i.e. the externally generated coercion and/or incentives aiming to transfer the missing ‘civil’ link to new democracies needs to be conceptualized. On the other hand, the question arises how this foreign transplant is perceived, accepted, adopted, internally adapted or maybe rejected. Civil society assistance will therefore be understood neither as an intrusion from outside nor as emulation from within, but rather as an import and an export business that can only be understood by taking the donor as well as the recipient side into account. Moreover, although it is acknowledged that actors do not always follow strategic calculations but are more often than not guided by a search for legitimate and appropriate solutions, it is still necessary to stress the importance of choice, political processes, the interaction of actors, and learning processes. Please allow me to elaborate.
The contention of sociological institutionalism that underlying informal rules and culturally-specific practices provide not only points of reference how to behave best, but also affect the very identities, self-images and preferences of actors has one major drawback. Sociological institutionalism easily explains why institutions continue to exist. It also offers strong explanations why reform efforts are no easy undertakings and also points to the major obstacles to democratic consolidation and explains why new democracies often consolidate with ‘defects’. However, although sociological institutionalism produces elegant accounts of failures of institutional reform, the focus on legacies, cultural practices and cognitive maps leaves little room for successfully conducted institutional transformations. Sociological institutionalism hardly investigates in causes of institutional change and thus provides only limited insight into the conditions that facilitate the transfer of structures and norms. For a study interested in the outcomes of institutional transfer it is, however, necessary to identify more precisely the conditions under which change in formal as well as in informal rules takes place. Furthermore, major focus needs to be given to institutional change occurring as a consequence of intentional and externally driven transfer.
For this purpose, greater emphasis has to be placed on political processes, actors, their interactions and choices on the one hand, and on the possibility of learning and cognitive change on the other hand. To avoid the pitfalls of an exclusively structural focus on institutions, Jacoby (2000:4) points out that institutional contexts are not to be taken as fixed and static. Reflecting on the institutional transfer from West to East Germany, Eisen (1996) comes to a similar conclusion and calls for a dynamic model of institutionalism. He stresses the point that in contrast to the pessimistic academic anticipations the institutional structures of the West did consolidate in the East, albeit with unforeseen outcomes. Eisen concludes that the institutional ‘software’ is not a fixed variable put rather open to change due to processes of institutional learning and adaptation (ibid: 8). In contrast to Jacoby who stresses the importance of political struggle, actors and policies, Eisen refers to the possibility of cognitive change or cognitive convergence as a result of learning processes that are triggered by a clash between - in his wording - the cultural (software) and the structural (hardware) dimension of institutions and that are facilitated and carried by certain ‘key actors’. The analytical framework guiding this study will draw on both insights. While actors, their orientations, capabilities and interactions stand in the center of analysis in the spirit of actor-centered institutionalism (Scharpf/Mayntz 1995), special attention is further called to the question when and how actors learn and to the question when learning results in political and institutional change.
In doing so, it is decisive for the purpose of this study to place special emphasis on interactions between external and internal actors. In other words, one needs to focus on the international as well as on the domestic side of the transfer. Not only is it important to determine how and to what extend external actors may intervene in domestic processes, on top of that, the analysis has to highlight how external pressures are perceived, accepted and adopted internally. In the remainder of this chapter I will draw up an analytical framework capable of achieving this goal. The argumentation is inspired by the concept of actor-centered institutionalism developed by Fritz Scharpf and Renate Mayntz (1995). Additionally, I will draw on approaches of learning and ideas that have gained prominence in international relations theory in order to cope with the peculiarities inherent to a study focusing on transactions between international and domestic actors.77
In order to identify the conditions that make institutional transfer work, we must remain alert to the fact that institutions are man-made, or to be more specific, institutions are the result of the social interactions of a plurality of actors. In the words of Claus Offe (1995: 212):
“... social order can be re-negotiated by the agents who are institutionally provided with the license and mandate to do so”.
Change as a consequence of actor choices, their interactions and decisions is subsequently feasible. This remains true despite the fact that institutional change and reform is hampered because formal and especially informal rules, including social norms, conventions and expectations, determine actors’ preferences and orientations and thus directly influence actors’ behavior and “structure the course of actions that a set of actors may choose” (Scharpf 1997: 38). This being said, policy outcomes are still not determined by institutional rules under which relevant actors act, rather by the actors, their orientations and capabilities, actor constellations and modes of transaction (ibid: 43pp).
“In our framework … the concept of the ”institutional setting“ does not have the status of a theoretically defined set of variables that could be systematized and operationalized to serve as explanatory factors in empirical research. Rather, we use it as a shorthand term to describe the most important influences on those factors that in fact drive our explanations – namely, actors with their orientations and capabilities, actor constellations, and modes of interaction” (ibid: 39).
Such a framework thus puts actors into the center of analysis without proceeding from rational choice assumptions and without neglecting the importance of institutional settings. What is put forward is an interactive approach that stresses the interdependent nature of actors and structures, in which actors are taken as the starting point of analysis. Notwithstanding that the interactions among intentional actors are regarded as decisive, the point is stressed that interactions are structured by the characteristic of the institutional settings within which they occur (Scharpf 1997: 1).78
According to actor-centered institutionalism, institutional settings function as a framework for action that structures the set of feasible strategies open to an actor by increasing the attractiveness of one particular strategy in comparison to another, and thus by decreasing the set of feasible strategic options to an institutionally defined subset. The final choice of strategy lies, however, in the responsibility and cognizance of the actors involved. In contrast to rational choice arguments, it is not assumed that actors have fixed preferences and are guided by a sole focus on their self interest. Rather, the orientations of actors, i.e. their perceptions and preferences, are structured by formal and informal rules and norms. Moreover, the preferences of composite actors are the result of institutional rules that constitute them as well as special cultural rules and expectations (ibid: 41).
Actors determine policy outcomes and thus political decisions that may alter institutional rules. However, individual actors are rarely the sole bearers of responsibility for decision making. More often than not, political outcomes and especially institutional reform programs are the result of the interactions of a variety of actors. If this is so, then policy outcomes that determine institutional rules cannot be comprehended as the strategic result of the preferences of one – or the strongest – actor. Rather, they are the unpredictable outcome of an interchange of various actors orientations as well as their capabilities and resulting action resources.
“…it is unlikely that any actor that is capable of unified action … will be able to determine policy outcomes according to the actor’s own perceptions and preferences and through the use of the actor’s own capabilities. What is determinative, rather is the constellation among the plurality of actors that are involved in policy interactions” (ibid: 44).
The constellation of actors thereby refers to the players involved, their strategic options, the outcomes associated with strategy combinations, and the preferences of the players over these outcomes (ibid).
This point is even more salient if one is aware of the fact that the interaction between actors does not only determine the policy outcome but also impacts on the orientations, i.e. the perceptions and preferences, and subsequently the strategic choices of the actors involved in the political game. Actors are aware of the importance of interaction. In other words, they realize that a desired outcome is not only dependent on their action alone, but the final product of various individual actors. As a result, they aim to anticipate the actions and choices of others and take the anticipated strategies of other actors into account while determining their own strategy. The anticipation of the expected choices of others thus affects their own strategic choices. Consequently, actor preferences may change in accordance with available strategic options identified by an assessment of other players’ strategies and choices, their capabilities and the own capabilities in relation to others. In other words, actors’ orientations are not only determined by their basic self-interest, their normative role orientations and their identity but also by “relational orientations” that take shape in the interaction with others (Scharpf 1997: 84).
In sum, policy outcomes and institutional change are the result of actors and their interactions. Actors and their interactions are, however, influenced by institutional rules and regulations. The capabilities of actors depend on institutional rules such as rules granting veto rights. Actor’s orientations are shaped by institutionally defined roles as well as social norms and culturally defined cognitive maps. The interaction of actors is usually also structured by institutional rules and different “institutional modes”.79
What does this imply for the purpose of this study? Leaving the possibility aside that externally driven institutional transfer targets the policy environment or even the institutional setting in which actor interactions take place; one can primarily derive two ways by which change as a consequence of externally driven transfer may occur. External actors may firstly alter the capabilities of domestic actors, i.e. “all action resources that allow an actor to influence an outcome in certain respects and to a certain degree” (Scharpf 1997: 43). Secondly, external actors may impact upon the orientations, thus the perceptions and preferences, of domestic actors.
In the first case, external actors may intervene into domestic settings by strengthening one group of actor over others. In such a case, international assistance results in an increase in relative power resources and a high political status of domestic recipients of aid compared to their domestic opponents. The ways by which such an empowerment of certain domestic actor groups may take place are manifold (see chapt. 3.4.). The provision of financial and material resources is the most obvious means to support a given group. Money, but also technical equipment that is not at the disposal of major opponents can translate into decisive action resources. The recipient organization is – in the sense of the word – better equipped to master its tasks. Moreover, the financial benefits granted also maintain the material existence of the recipient and thus help the organization to survive; a fact which is especially important in authoritarian regimes. The provision of material goods may have an immense impact as shown by the example of the Serbian opposition which managed – thanks to the up-to-date computers donated to them - to count the votes of the presidential election much faster than the regime incumbents could.
Secondly, external actors may expand the capabilities of domestic actors by the provision of information, training and know-how especially if the information is not available to major opponents and can thus translate into a decisive advantage in the political struggle. Taking part in capacity-building measures, will probably increase the recipient’s professionalism due to the knowledge, training, information and expertise they have received. This, in turn, may enable him or her to act more rapidly, self-assuredly and effectively than opponents, including those with incumbency resources. Finally, international connections can help to protect recipient organizations from government repression or – in new democracies – increase the recipient’s standing vis-à-vis its own government. Depending on the reputation of the external actor and on whether the expertise of the donor is trusted and respected in a given field, domestic actors may indeed gain legitimacy through international contacts. For example, a rather small NGO representing women’s rights in the Czech Republic is invited to regular committee meetings at the Ministry of Social Affairs. The NGO owes this special standard less to its actual lobbying power than to its connection to several international donors and to the interest of the government in sending positive signals to the European Union and European governments (interview Linau). What is decisive, however, is the esteem the external actor enjoys in the domestic setting. In Poland international contacts to US organizations may increase the standing of a civil society organization more than contacts to German or Russian organizations due to the high esteem of Americans in the country as compared to its large neighbors in East and West. The credibility, reputation and trustworthiness of the donor are thus at least as decisive as the content of the transfer when it comes to increasing action resources of chosen domestic partners. For all these reasons the assistance of external actors may translate into an increase of action resources of supported domestic actors. As a result, the external interference and support may lead - if not already the case - to an inclusion of the empowered domestic actor into the circle of decision makers. A further result of external support is a change in strategic options available to relevant actors. If the capabilities of one relevant actor increase, all players, including the actor in question, will alter their expectations of what strategies are available and of what the likely outcome of the political game will be. Subsequently, the range of available strategic options may alter as will the strategies they choose.
From a theoretical point of view, the first method with which external actors may influence domestic outcomes is relatively unproblematic. It is obvious that action resources are critical to any explanation of policy outcomes since, in their absence “even the most enlightened perceptions and preferences will fail to make a practical difference” (Scharpf 1997: 51). Similarly, it is obvious that a transfer of resources, information and know-how increases the capability of domestic actors to exert political influence. The second option, the possibility that external actors impinge upon domestic processes by altering actor orientations, is however less apparent and palatable and requires a more extensive explanation, though.
As already pointed out, sociological institutionalism proceeds from the contention that actors’ orientations are not primarily and solely determined by rational self-interests but are subject to the socially institutionalized environment of actors. Moreover, actor orientations are not only shaped by social norms but are further affected by culturally defined cognitive maps which form the worldview of actors. If this is so, then actor’s perceptions and preferences tend to be relatively stable as a result of the unconscious character of cognitive mappings and rigid worldviews. This notion explains the continuity of institutions, especially if they are ineffective and are confronted with external adaptation pressures. On the other hand, it is oblivious to the ability of actors to learn and thus ignores the major driving force behind institutional change. Although actor orientations tend to be relatively stable, this study stresses the point that they are no fixed variables but may be altered through learning and socialization.
For the purpose of this study, the question thus has to be: how do citizens and activists of civil society organizations learn to take on their respective roles to create a vibrant civil society? How do they learn to participate in politics, trust their fellow citizens, tolerate and respect the actions and opinions of their political opponents, have trust in the liability of public institutions and rules, stand up for their rights and, in particular, how can they be convinced that they are not powerless subjects, rather self-reliant citizens that are able to initiate political change? Making activists of civil society organizations learn, however, is not enough. Those learning processes must also find their way in wider domestic settings. We thus have to additionally ask how to trigger learning processes of political decision-makers. How do politicians learn to accept participatory regulations that augment elections, to perceive civil society organizations not as illegitimate competitors, but as important intermediaries that channel public opinion and legitimate decisions, and when do they take actors of civil society as partners from whose participation decision-making profits? And finally the major question of concern is to what extent are external actors able to trigger such learning processes? And if they are, how do they do it?
In order to come close to an answer to the above questions, the dissertation will draw on the insights of learning theories developed to explain changes in international relations and foreign policy. In this regard, the work of Peter Haas on epistemic communities is of relevance. It proceeds from the assumption that learning and ideas, i.e. knowledge, values, and strategic concepts, account for changes in state behavior in foreign policy and in patterns of international cooperation.
“We argue that control over knowledge and information is an important dimension of power and that the diffusion of new ideas and information can lead to new patterns of behavior and prove to be an important determinant of international policy coordination” (Haas 1992: 2p).
Ideas are thereby formulated and diffused by means of “epistemic communities”. Epistemic communities are (transnational) networks of knowledge-based experts which despite perhaps consisting of professionals from various backgrounds (1) share a set of normative and principled beliefs, (2) share causal beliefs; (3) share notions of validity, and (4) have a common policy enterprise (ibid: 33). The argument goes that international policy coordination today is characterized by an increasing complexity and uncertainty which requires special expertise, information and advice. Transnational expert-networks hence become salient not only for the formulation of new ideas but also for translating ideas and information into policies. The basic assumption behind the argument is that groups of experts share a common understanding and methodologies which make it possible to ‘construct reality’ despite different cultural and national backgrounds. Furthermore, experts are esteemed by decision-makers and their societies as legitimate carriers of knowledge. Based on the same assumption of the salience of a shared understanding in (relatively) small transnational groups, Kathryn Sikkink (1993) introduced the concept of ‘principled issue-networks’:
”These networks differ from other forms of transnational relations, such as epistemic communities or transnationally organized interests groups, in that they are driven primarily by shared values or principled ideas – ideas about what is right and wrong – rather than shared causal ideas or instrumental goals” (ibid: 412).
Her own example is networks of human rights issues which influenced state behavior in Latin America.
Learning processes are thus facilitated by the core consensus of a common professional background in the case of epistemic communities or a shared principle as in the case put forward by Sikkink.80
We can thus conclude that a second mode of intervention by which donors may impact upon recipient organizations, is to trigger learning processes among recipients by engaging in transnational networks and partnerships. Such networks necessitate a common goal, task or “shared principle” as well as a certain continuity and form.
A common understanding, shared principles and values or another kind of “core consensus” in small networks are thus the main factors driving processes of cognitive convergence and cognitive change across national borders. Transnational networks, we can conclude, that are based on a “core consensus” constitute a promising mechanism when it comes to triggering a proper understanding and an “appropriate spirit” among activists of civil society. If this holds true, then the type of interaction on which donor and recipient relations are based will determine whether learning and a subsequent change of domestic actor’s perceptions and preferences will occur. If donors and recipients engage in transnational networks that are based on a “core consensus”, be it a common goal, principle, problem, a shared cultural, political or professional background or historical affinity, civil society assistance is more likely to lead to lasting results. However, if such a core consensus is missing, or if recipients have doubts about the genuineness of the motives of donors, distrust the donor or if the donor is not credible, the transfer is likely to fail.
A change in the orientations of domestic actors does not suffice as explanatory factor of institutional change, though. Coming back to the arguments of the actor-centered institutionalism, one has to accept that a further condition is necessary. New ideas and policy solutions but also newly established norms and contentions have to find their way into wider domestic settings. Haas refers to the well-known assertion that ‘knowledge is power’, and takes the legitimacy enjoyed by the experts as a guarantee that new ideas will find their way into domestic settings. Experts thus enjoy a “cultural authority” to introduce innovative ideas (DiMaggio / Powell 1991 cit. in Hall/Taylor 1996: 965p). However, as Risse-Kappen (1994) points out, “ideas do not float freely”. Rather, domestic settings select some ideas but not others. I therefore emphasize the already stated contention that no matter how elaborated and inspiring new ideas and orientations may be, if they are not based on action resources and political influence they will exert little impact. We thus have to come back to actor constellations and modes of interactions that determine the interactions of domestic decision-makers. Not only are recipients of assistance in need of action resources in order to implement new ideas and convictions, new ideas must also be in the range of appropriate policy options of other actors. Again in this regard existing domestic institutional settings are decisive.
To sum it up, external actors have two ways of impacting upon domestic transformation processes. While the first option focuses on a change in actor constellations, the second may result in institutional change due to an alteration of actors’ orientations. The availability of action resources to the ‘learners’, the attractiveness of the new orientations and subsequent strategies and policy solutions to other players of the game, will determine whether new orientations find their way into domestic settings.
One can state a further point in conclusion. The type of transaction through which transfer takes place and the relationship between external and domestic actors is more decisive than both the strategy of external agents and the content of the transfer. Whether transfer works depends neither on the effectiveness and performance of the transferred structure nor on the strategy applied by the external donor with regards to how best to conduct civil society assistance. Rather, it is decisive who transfers, for what reasons and through what kind of interactions. This is in line with the findings of Wedel (1998) in her study on Western aid to Eastern Europe. She arrives at the conclusion that how aid happens determines success or failure. Donor-recipient relationship are decisive, but are complicated by a lack of understanding on the side of donors and by legacies of communist rules, such as a distrust of foreigners, powers of old elites, as well as the persistence of existing relationships and mentalities among the recipients (Wedel 1998: 6). For these very reasons transnational relations between non-governmental actors are more likely to lead to lasting results than the civil society assistance of governmental agencies. The superiority of non-governmental to governmental assistance is firstly grounded in the fact that private actors are perceived as being more trustworthy and credible than state actors. Secondly, as shown, transnational advocacy networks and coalitions as well as epistemic communities result in cognitive convergence and cognitive change and thus impact upon the cultural dimension that is of utmost importance for a vibrant civil society.
The purpose of this chapter was twofold. First, it intended to theoretically elaborate on the question driving the subsequent analysis: is it feasible to establish and support civil society from the outside? Second, based on theoretical accounts the aim was to develop an analytical framework capable of guiding empirical research.
Applying two major lines of social science thought, two distinct answers to the key question of this work - does civil society assistance contribute positively to political transformation processes - could be identified. Neo-liberal accounts emphasize that civil society assistance can be a valuable mechanism to support civil society and subsequently to stabilize democratization processes. This assessment proceeds from the conviction that civil society fulfills important functions that make democracy flourish. The major question of research is consequently not whether it can be done. The question is how it is done. Civil society assistance is perceived as a manageable enterprise. If this is so, then the outcome of assistance solely depends on the skills of the manager, i.e. the donor, as well as the elaborateness of underlying concepts and on the proficiency of project management. The outcome of civil society is thus a mere question of donor strategy and design.
If a sociological approach to civil society assistance is applied, the answer to our question looks thoroughly different, though. As made clear in chapter two, civil society is more than a collection of various non-state organizations. In addition, the term civil society refers to certain values and norms, to a ‘civic ethos’ or Sittlichkeit without which the democratic functions ascribed to civil society cannot bear fruit. However, such a civic ethos is the result of a long historical and cultural development and as such not open to strategic planning. Civil society assistance is consequently bound to fail due to the fact that culturally and historically formed values and norms cannot be transferred from one place to another. Applying insights from sociological institutionalism that stress the dual nature of institutions two main problems inherent to civil society assistance understood as externally driven intentional transfer have been identified. First, civil society assistance risks being perceived as an illegitimate interference in internal affairs and as such will be rejected by recipients. Second, as formal rules – or in other words the hardware of institutions – are more easily transferred than underlying theories of use and cognitive scripts, continuing cognitive codes of conduct and standards of behavior will prevent formal structures from taking root. Transfer will therefore result in nothing more than in a supplementary stratum on existing practices. Coming back to civil society, the previous arguments suggest the hypothesis that civil society assistance will nurture recipient opportunism and hypocrisy and solely results in a supplementary stratum consisting of DONGOs (donor-driven NGOs) or GONGOs (governmental driven NGOs) that are not embedded in the domestic socio-political environment and may also be perceived by the domestic population as intruders and externally controlled puppets (see also chapter 2.5.).
This study follows neither the first nor the second line of thought. Neo-liberal approaches are rejected as inappropriate for the purpose of this study for three reasons. Firstly, they fail to account for divergent domestic responses to civil society assistance. Second, various studies on ‘policy transfer’ and ‘policy borrowing’ demonstrate that institutional transfer is hardly driven by rational reasoning and a search for effectiveness, but more often than not follows the search for appropriate and legitimate solutions and structures. Finally, approaches that stress the rationality of an actor’s choices and the performance of institutions and concepts provide a too limited concept of civil society that is incapable of living up to the normative ideal inherent to the concept of civil society (see chapter 2.2.1). For these reasons the dissertation will be based on sociological and cultural explanations of human action and of the interactions between actors and structures. The above mentioned hypothesis of sociologically inspired neo-institutionalism that civil society assistance is bound to fail and will lead to rejection or to nothing more than supplementary stratums, is challenged though. An overemphasis on structures and legacies overlooks the possibility of learning and change. Moreover, it is regarded as a fruitless approach for transformation countries searching for solutions to pressing problems as it leaves transformation societies with no other answer than: “get a history” (Pridham 1994).
In the spirit of actor-centered institutionalism developed by Fritz Scharpf and Renate Mayntz the overemphasis on domestic structures and cultures is replaced by a focus on actors and interactions. Emphasis is placed on the point that institutions are the result of social interaction. Although actors, their capabilities, orientations and interactions are affected by institutional settings, those do not determine but only structure actors’ choices and strategic options. Consequently, some leeway for action is plausible. Such a framework leaves room for actor choices that may result in institutional and cultural change, and also acknowledges the possibility and importance of cognitive change, thus learning. For the purpose of this study with its focus on the international as well as the domestic side of the transfer of civil society, it is necessary to incorporate external and internal actors and their interactions into the analysis.
Based on the assumptions of actor-centered institutionalism two basic modes of intervention available to external actors have been identified and labeled as “empowerment” and “learning”. First, external actors may concentrate on the capabilities of domestic actors and the endeavors of external actors may alter domestic actor constellations, while providing resources, information and know-how to certain groups of actors. A change in political outcomes is the likely consequence. Secondly, the cooperation with external actors may impact upon the orientations of a given actor group and trigger processes of learning and cognitive change. Transnational networks that are based on a core consensus of shared principles or common professional backgrounds have been pinpointed as forms of cognitive convergence. While empowerment is more likely to affect the structural dimension of civil society, learning processes and the alteration of actor orientations are more likely to affect the cultural dimension of civil society (see chapter 2.2).
Based on the preceding argumentation, the following working hypothesis will be drawn up for the study:
Civil society assistance may impact upon political and social transformation by two distinct mechanisms: (1) it raises the capabilities of civil society actors thus empowering those groups, (2) it alters the orientations of domestic actors by triggering learning processes.
Donors may empower civil society organizations and strengthen their standing in relation to the government. Additionally they trigger learning via the provision of information, legal and political advice, as well as technical know-how. Moreover, donors may increase the legitimacy and standing of civil society actors. This support may be of great value especially in repressed societies. Ekiert / Kubik (1998: 18pp) explain, for example, that the Solidarity opposition movement in Poland in the 1980s tremendously benefited from Western assistance in various ways. The rich and diverse Western contacts of the Solidarity movement did not only provide much needed foreign material assistance (according to Ekiert/Kubik (1998: 19) the CIA alone spent about eight million dollars in 1982-83 on assisting Solidarity) More importantly, the affiliation with several international organizations made it clear “that the domestic legality and the international legitimacy were separate”. According to Ekiert / Kubik (ibid), gestures of international recognition had “… tremendous, though intangible, effect on boosting the movement’s moral and staying power”. In addition, Western contacts facilitated the spread of ideas among Polish intellectuals thus “contributing to the vibrancy of the underground cultural and political disputes”.
After transition civil society organizations may equally benefit from external assistance. Donors may act as important political, social or legal experts in given policy fields, and offer expertise civil society organizations would not be able to obtain otherwise. Especially in Eastern and Central Europe there are abundant examples of how Western advice facilitated the establishment and reform of institutional structures. The German association of counties “Der deutsche Landkreistag” for example successfully assisted regional activists in Poland to found an association of councils and to press for a territorial restructuring of the country (Interview v. Hausen).
Moreover, it has been argued that donors can act as independent and objective monitors and moderators and trigger participatory processes. In her assessment of the activities of the Economic Development Institute (EDI) of the World Bank in support of non-governmental organizations, Coston (1998) demonstrates that donors can encourage cooperation and understanding between domestic groups. According to Coston, the learning and dialogue forums conducted by EDI, i.e., training seminars, conferences and study tours for representatives of NGOs and government that support policy reform, contributed to a cooperative relationship between civil society organizations and government representatives in various policy fields such as water management or decentralization of education.
These examples suggest that external assistance can make a difference. However, it is not clear when and how this happens. The attempt to initiate certain processes does not automatically translate into success. It might well lead to learning processes and to a change in the system but it might also fail to do so.
The arguments put forward in this chapter revealed that the impact of external assistance to civil society depends on two conditions, whereby the first is international, the second domestic in character. First, the type of interaction between the donor and recipient is decisive. Depending on the perceptions on both sides and depending on the existence of a “core consensus” between the donor and recipient, transfer is more likely to lead to lasting results. Donor-recipient interactions are thus crucial. Neither the elaborateness of the donor strategy nor the effectiveness of the transferred image is the main factor that decides on failure or success. Secondly, whether new ideas, norms and behaviors find their way into wider domestic settings depends on relevant actor constellations in the domestic realm. The availability of action resources on the side of the ‘learners’ is as important as the attractiveness of the new orientations and subsequent strategies and policy solutions to other players of the game.
As a result, the working hypothesis can be reformulated as follows:
Civil society assistance can contribute to the development of civil society and thus permits the concept of civil society to travel. Whether the transfer is stuck in a supplementary stratum of donor driven NGOs detached from society or whether it results in a vibrant civil society depends, however, on the type of transaction between donor and recipient on the one hand, and on domestic actor constellations and interactions on the other hand.
As stated in the introduction to this section, besides the aim of theoretically approaching the key question, a further objective of this chapter was to develop an analytical framework capable of guiding empirical research. So what implications for empirical research can be drawn?
First and foremost, one can conclude that major emphasis has to be placed on the actors involved in civil society assistance on both sides; on the donor as well as on the recipient side. The study needs to identify major donors and recipients, their objectives, interests, and strategies, as well as the underlying concepts guiding their actions. Secondly, the study will highlight the interactions between donors and recipients. Are they based on trust and a common understanding and resemble a partnership among equals or are they perceived as an asymmetric exchange between a superior donor and a dependent recipient? Thirdly, recipient contexts and domestic settings are of utmost importance. Domestic actor constellations and interactions that are of relevance for this study will be examined. These are, on the one hand, interactions between recipients of assistance and other civil society organizations. Does the better equipment and access to financial resources of recipients generate envy and distrust among organizations that do not possess these privileges? Or are recipient organizations able to act as carriers of civil society and succeed in transporting their new ideas and values into wider domestic settings? On the other hand, the study will focus upon the interactions between recipients and domestic political decision-makers. As pointed out above (chapter 2.2.3), decision-making processes that aim to change the legal regulatory framework of non-governmental organizations are of special relevance in this regard. However, instead of contributing one more study comparing donors and their strategies, the study strives to focus on the outcome of civil society assistance, i.e. on recipients and their achievements rather than on the output of civil society assistance, i.e. on conferences, seminars and training conducted by donor organizations.
The following chapter will present the methodology guiding the empirical research in greater detail.
71 For a description of the two basic lines of thought see: Scharpf (1997: 20pp), Jacoby (2000: 3pp), Offe (1995: 201pp), Hall/Taylor (1996). Hall/Taylor label the two lines of thought the “calculus” and the “cultural” approach to human action. Based on the relationship between actors and structures, the definition of institutions and the explanation of change they distinguish among “three new institutionalisms”: “historical institutionalism”, “rational choice institutionalism”, and “sociological institutionalism” whereas “historical institutionalism” stands somewhat between the other two as it draws on the “calculus” and the “cultural” approach in an eclectic manner.
72 The various democratic virtues of civil society are outlined in greater detail in chapter 2.1.
73 Examples of studies that largely focus on donors, in particular US-American donors, and on donor strategies are: Carothers (e.g. 1997, 1999a), Crawford (1996), Diamond (1997), Glenn (1999), Guilhot (2003), Hansen (1996), Jenkins (2001), Quigley (1997), Santiso (2001).
74 See in detail on the concept of civil society: chapter 2.
75 Rose (1993) stresses the point that lesson drawing is not about the uniform spread of programs; it is about finding programs that can transfer. The transferability of a program is grounded in elements connected to the program and elements connected to the country (e.g. lacking resources) adopting it. Basically his argument follows the logic that due to dissimilarities of two settings certain conditions have to apply so that the program can be effective. However, he gives no satisfying classification as to how many dissimilarities prevent the transfer and how much similarity is necessary. Cases are also rejected when programs do not transfer despite similarities in context or transfer despite lacking effectiveness.
76 The following is mainly based on: Eisen (1996), Goodin (1996), Hall/Taylor (1996), March/Olson (1989), Offe (1995 / 2000b).
77 See for an overview of the literature on the role of ideas and learning in international relations: Schaber/Ulbert (1994), Keohane/ Goldstein (eds.) (1993), Haas (1992).
78 At this point a caveat is in order. Mayntz/Scharpf developed an analytical framework capable of explaining policy outcomes that are the result of actors interacting in given institutional settings. Institutional settings are thus initially taken as fixed variables. The question arises, to what extent actor-centered institutionalism is thus able to explain institutional change. However, the very fact that actor constellations and interactions are conceived as independent variables, which are not determined by institutional settings allows for institutional change coming as a result of a change in actor constellations, actor capabilities or actor orientations. For this exact reason, the framework provides valuable insights for the objective of this study.
79 Institutional modes are determined by the rules according to which the interaction takes place. Scharpf (1997: 46pp) differentiates between four different modes of interaction depending on the institutional rules regulating their use: “unilateral action”, “negotiated agreement”, “majority vote”, “hierarchical vote”.
80 See also Keck/Sikking (1998).
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