Collaboration, Co-Optation or Navigation? The Role of Civil Society in Disaster Governance in India

Reetika Syal, Margit van Wessel, Sarbeswar Sahoo

Existing research on civil society organizations (CSOs) facing restricted civic space largely focuses on the crackdown on freedoms and CSOs’ strategies to handle these restrictions, often emphasizing impact on their more confrontational public roles. However, many CSOs shape their roles through collaborative relations with government. Drawing on interviews with state agencies and CSOs, this article analyes state–CSO collaboration in the restricted civic space context of disaster risk reduction in India. Findings are that the shaping of CSOs’ roles through collaboration under conditions of restricted civic space is only partly defined by the across-the-board restrictive policies that have been the focus of much existing research on restricted civic space and its implications for CSOs.

Interplay at the level of individual state agencies and CSOs, based on mutual perceptions, diverse organizationlevel considerations and actions, and evolving relations, shape who collaborates with whom and to what effect. This article thus stresses interplay and agency, moving away from simple understandings of co-optation, and calling for a more differentiated approach to the study of state–civil society collaboration under conditions of restricted civic space, with close attention to navigation.

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