Keywords: Civil society, advocacy, advocacy evaluation, policymaking, international development, gender, power, organizations
Margit van Wessel researches and teaches on manifestations of citizenship and civil society, focusing on dynamics between citizens and political and governmental institutions and processes.
A key interest is civil society advocacy. Civil society organisations organise across state and continental boundaries, to influence society and decision making by private, state, and international actors. This advocacy is one way by which transnational democracy may take shape, addressing the boundary-crossing nature of many problems and solutions. But many questions emerge. What does such advocacy contribute to change? For whom? And how can organisations enhance the effectiveness, democratic quality and legitimacy of such advocacy? Monitoring, evaluation, learning and communication are key focus areas.
Another topic of interest is the nature and role of publics, as fluid entities articulating the voice of 'society', and the ways political and private actors engage these. How should we understand the forming of publics, and the nature of their communicative engagements? How do the worlds of formal politics informal citizen politics come together – or fail to do so? And how can formal politics relate to the realities of present-day publics?
A related interest concerns the shaping of civil society. Civil society organisations offer spaces in which people can develop citizen roles and contribute to change. There is growing evidence of emergent forms of civil society organisation engaging with societal challenges and established institutions and roles in new ways. Key questions are: how do citizens engage with each other and with other actors, and develop and enact new identities and roles? How do they thereby shift and transform the roles of established institutions and forms of problem solving? To what extent and in what ways do we see transformations of citizenship, democracy and politics as new relations and roles develop, in interaction?
Questions of power (i.e, around funding, gender and discourse), organizational dynamics, and context, shaping what gets communicated and heard, are leading in Margit's research.