The democratization literature commonly claims that democratic transitions require an independent civil society. However this view, which builds upon Tocqueville, reifies boundaries between state and society. It also over-predicts the likelihood that independent civil society organizations will engage in confrontation with the government. Drawing upon Hegel, I develop a two-dimensional model of civil society that clusters organizations according to goal orientation and autonomy. This illustrates how high levels of autonomy combined with goals that extend beyond an internal constituency are linked to democratization. I then examine Nigeria's civil society during the era of democratization between 1985 and 1998, and identify important changes in the political opportunity structure. I attribute changes in autonomy and goal orientation of organizations to three factors: transnational organizing, coalition building, and victimization. My findings question the assumption that autonomous organizations will challenge the state. Future research could explore links between the state mobilization during the 1990s and one-party dominance today.

Questioning Tocqueville in Africa: Continuity and Change in Civil Society during Nigeria's Democratization’, A.CarlLeVanDemocratization, 18 (1) (2011): 135–159. © 2011 Taylor & Francis. Reprinted by permission of Taylor & Francis Ltd,
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