Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Performing Agency in Shrinking Spaces: Acting Beyond the Resilience–Resistance Binary

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Abstract:  Civil society occupies a significant space in any dynamic political landscape. However, in recent years, governments worldwide have attempted a shift away from activism and advocacy among civil society organisations (CSOs), favouring the apolitical service‐driven organisations while disabling those perceived as “political.” This process has incapacitated civil society of its political habits, tendencies, and potentials and turned CSOs into infinitely malleable and adaptive subjects, tamed and governed by institutions. Not only has this functioned to create a discursive expansion and valorisation of the concept of “civil society resilience” as an alternative political vision for “resistance,” but it has also led to the inclusion of CSOs in the political system on conditions of their exclusion from political participation. Using the case of India as an example of a shrinking welfare state—with its burgeoning poverty, repressed civic space, international non‐governmental organisations (INGOs) banned, and NGOs abrogated from foreign funding on “anti‐national,” “anti‐developmental” charges—this article captures the rapid symptomatic depoliticisation of civil society, its resource dependency on CSOs, and their potential political exclusion and disengagement. The research builds on a qualitative exploration of the transformative journey of ten highly‐influential INGOs in India to offer a distinct perspective toward effecting systemic change by repoliticising CSO resilience as an enhanced strategy of practicing resistance. In doing so, the article bridges the gap between the neoliberal manifestation of resilience and resistance by reconceptualising how and if CSOs co‐exist and navigate between competing visions of resilience (as institutionalised subjects of neoliberalism) and resistance (as political subjects of change).

Keywords:  civil society; development; politics; exclusion; inclusion; India; neoliberalism; resilience; resistance



© Soumi Banerjee. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.