Table of contents

Foreword Richard Harmston


1 Introduction: Unpacking the Conceptual Ragbag

2 The Politics of Helping People: Canada and Sri Lanka

3 From Enlightenment to Globalization: A Historical Passage

4 “As Long as People Are People”: Voluntarism, Government, and Politics

5 Dams, Jeeps, and People-Centred Development: The South Asian Experience

6 Conclusion: Towards the “Double Movement”




In this concise, critical study of civil society, Jamie Swift sketches the history of the concept from its roots in the eighteenth century, to the present. Swift looks at its practical application in specific cases, such as Canada’s Victorian Order of Nurses, and with community-based groups in South Asia (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh). He examines the relationship between voluntarism, the state, politics, and the market, and considers the motives and priorities of those using the term today.


This book is not for the politically faint-of-heart; the material can be fairly dense. yet for those willing to wade through, there are numerous moments of insight, along with remarkable stories of “third world” victories over megaprojects and colonial exploitation.

- Quill & Quire