Civil society is often used as a point of reference in public and welfare policies. However, there are various notions of civil society. The most popular concept broadly equates it with the ‘third sector’. A second concept sees the key to a more civil society mainly in the public domain with its ability for intermediation. Finally, there is a third notion, arguing that a more civil society takes shape through a struggle to strengthen civility and civicness throughout society. This article outlines these three approaches and their respective strengths and weaknesses. With an eye on public policies and welfare reform, it is argued that the first approach tends to limit questions about civil society to issues of strengthening third sector-based service provision. Such a focus, however, marginalises the potential offered by the other two approaches for analysing gains and losses in civility and civicness across society at large.
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