The Center for International Studies in Citizenship, Democratic Participation, and Civil Society (CIPACI) aims at strengthening research into the social and democratic processes that are involved in defining citizenship rights, enhancing active participation, and organizing democratic interaction between civil society organizations and state at local, regional, national and global levels.
Research at CIPACI is based on an understanding that citizenship rights are strongly dependent on social participation in all spheres of everyday life - from the involvement in labour market, family matters and community networks to the shaping of civic, public and private institutions, and the realization of democratic rights more generally within contemporary societies.
Civil society-based institutions have had a significant historical impact both on the formation of modern notions of the nation and on the creation of notions of national identity, as well as on the definition of citizenship rights and understandings of a democratic culture. If support for citizenship rights through civic institutions - at the workplace and in public institutions - is weakly articulated, it creates a fragile democratic culture and - consequently - less comprehensive social protection. The possibility of civil society becoming a locus for democratic learning, political reflexivity and governance depends, firstly, on its own specific institutional mechanisms, and, secondly, on the broader institutional configuration, which civil society forms part of.
In the highly developed industrialized countries of the North and the West, citizens' involvement has become in recent years a key issue on political and institutional agendas. The growth of interest in the concept of social and civic participation is based on experiences of deficiency in the way democratic processes function, and - consequently - a crisis of legitimacy for the modern idea of democracy. An additional reason can be found in the difficulties of establishing frameworks that involve citizens in strategic decision-making for the community, and in the identification and organization of services and welfare. These problems have been ascribed to the limitations of representative forms of democracy in capturing the heterogeneity, complex interests, and multiple identity strategies characterizing groups and individuals living in the contemporary societies.
The growth of interest in possibilities for citizens' more active involvement in the North have been paralleled by a revitalization of the role played by citizens in the South in influencing and regulating the economy and society at local, national, and regional levels. In societies of the South - some of them still characterized by authoritarian regimes, or by state institutions that have little outreach and capacity to secure the welfare of citizens - the role of civil society is of equal significance, but also presents different challenges for theoretical analysis and policy intervention. In Asia, Africa and Latin America, civil society organizations are strong and have a long history of both opposition to than and support for the state. Here NGOs are often allied to social movements, and, like them, place the social and economic demands of specific groups on the national and international agenda. In many cases their approach is based on demands for the recognition of groups and individuals as citizens with full human and social rights, and on struggles against discrimination based on criteria of gender, ethnicity, race or other markers of cultural identity. Such struggles for citizenship, recognition, and participation in welfare are in many respects parallel to those pursued by organizations in the North and are closely linked to more global social and cultural developments and dynamics of state-civil society interaction.
In both South and North migration dynamics and patterns challenge traditional notions of civicness and practices of active citizenship. New forms of inclusion and exclusion may result from this, and CIPACI will be active in encouraging new research on the ways in which such dynamics impact on the possibilities for human security and social cohesion through the activation of new notions of citizenship. This involves also a need to consider new types of public and civil society institutions and organizations, new understandings of democratic rights in both the private and the public sphere, within institutional settings and in the work place, as well as the development of new dynamics for participation and the interaction between state and civil society.