This unit of study critiques key developments and debates about civil society, its history and evolving roles and functions in international community development. Students examine civil society's relationships with other actors, including other civil society organisations (CSOs), governments, international institutions and the private sector. They will critically assess the relationships between civil society in developed and developing countries, including in relation to supporting capacity development of indigenous civil society to mobilise communities to claim rights, hold governments and authorities to account, connect communities and representatives, and plan and implement community development initiatives. Students interrogate the concept of capacity development and its relationship to processes of self-determination, democratisation and state development and consider the appropriateness and sustainability of capacity development strategies. Case studies are used to provide real world illustrations of key issues and tensions.

Unit details

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Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:
  1. Unpack the key concepts and approaches of building capacity and civil society and critically interpret their operationalisations in diverse contexts towards various ends;  
  2. Critically examine key development and civil society theories as they fulfil the aim of contributing to a more resilient community, and more equitable and sustainable world;  
  3. Conceptually map the links between public policies, government and civil society organisations in building capacity;  
  4. Debate the competing conceptions of civil society and deconstruct its roles and functions in international community development; and  
  5. Theorise and transform thinking about key concepts, issues and debates in relation to capacity building in international community development contexts.  


Assessment type Description Grade
Journal Student reflecting on responses to issues related to civil society and capacity building explored in each session and in the readings. 15%
Review A critical review of one of the required readings from the unit. 30%
Essay A critical essay exploration and analysis should consider civil society in relation to the range of themes and issues covered in the course. 55%
Minimum effective word length of 6000 words. Item Learning Outcome Graduate Capability Review LO 1, 2, 3, GC 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 Presentation LO 2, 3, 4,5 GC 2, 3, 4, 6 Essay LO 1,2,3, 4, GC 1, 2, , 3, 4, 6

Required reading

Community capacity building: creating a better future together,
OECD 2009,
Paris: OECD Publishing.

Community participation in China: issues and processes for capacity building,
Plummer, J 2004,
London: Earthscan.

Patronage or partnership: local capacity building in humanitarian crises,
Smillie, I 2001,
Ottawa: International Development Research Center.

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