Civil Society in Turbulent Times: Exploring Connections, Comparison and Capacity-Building in Ireland and Wales

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: Inst of Geography and Earth Sciences


This projects aims to strengthen networks, share perspectives and facilitate collaborative research between social scientists in Ireland and Wales working on the general area of civil society. In both territories, a renewed emphasis has been focused on civil society as a critical space in which citizen rights and responsibilities, collective action and relations between individuals and the state, are being re-shaped and re-articulated against a background of social, economic and political change. Several pressures are common to both Ireland and Wales, including globalization, the legacies of austerity politics, the rise of individualism and identity politics, technological innovations and their social and economic implications, and most recently, the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. Other notable dynamics in civil society have developed within the distinctive polities of each nation, such as social liberalisation and experimentation with new mechanisms for citizen engagement in Ireland, and the ongoing evolution of civil society with respect to Wales as a devolved political entity. Civil society in both Ireland and Wales faces challenges from the UK's withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit), but from different perspectives. As such, civil society presents rich potential for collaborative research and knowledge exchange, examining parallels and differences, comparing experiences and outcomes, and synthesizing results to contribute both to critical conceptual development of social science research on civil society and to applied policy learning.

Ireland and Wales have a strong affinity as close geographical neighbours with broadly comparable populations, shared cultural roots and an history of intellectual exchange and policy transfer. There is a good record of research collaboration and dialogue between social scientists in Ireland and Wales, as well as civil society engagement, however in recent decades such activities have primarily been facilitated through EU programmes, including Horizon 2020 and INTERREG. Brexit will therefore require new avenues for collaboration and engagement to be developed. The project will help to build capacity for ongoing and renewed research partnership.

The project accordingly has four objectives:
1. To bring together social science researchers in Ireland and Wales working on selected aspects of civil society in order to build capacity and sustainable networks for future collaboration;
2. To compare and critique recent developments in civil society in Ireland and Wales, to develop understanding of shared and contextual factors and exchange conceptual and methodological perspectives;
3. To identify questions for further collaborative research, develop frameworks and build teams to take forward proposals for appropriate funding opportunities;
4. To draw lessons for policy from the comparative experiences of Ireland and Wales and facilitate the sharing of good practice between governance and civil society actors in both nations.

The work programme is structured around four themes that have been selected as notable areas of recent debate and activity in civil society in which there is excellent social science research expertise in both Ireland and Wales. These are renegotiating borders; rural citizenship; engaging young people; and inclusive and deliberative democracy. All four themes will follow a common format involving a physical workshop, virtual follow-up meetings, including one with policy and civil society stakeholders, leading to a range of outputs including summary papers, policy briefings, infographics, a video and articles in academic and non-academic publications, as well as proposals for further collaborative research. The Welsh side of the project is anchored in the ESRC WISERD/Civil Society Centre, which will support the longer-term sustainability of the networks.


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