Published: February 2018

This paper explores the complex and contradictory positioning of the family within civil society literature. In some accounts, the family is seen as the cornerstone of civil society. In others, the family is positioned firmly outside – even antithetical to – civil society. This paradox arises from the ways in which civil society is variously defined through a series of binary oppositions – in relation to each of which the family sits uneasily. And while feminist critiques have tried to bring women back into view, they too tend to marginalise the family. In addition, the normative nature of these oppositions has meant that while civil society tends to be seen as the property of the political ‘left’, the family is often associated with the political ‘right’. The paper argues that we need to move beyond oppositional definitions of civil society and assumptions about the family if we are to understand the multiple ways in which the family is implicated as not only the ‘reproducer’ of particular resources and dispositions but as a principal source and focus of civil society engagement and activism.