How is Global Citizenship Enacted – How Are These Values Advanced?

In our section on What global citizenship has to do with local actions and community-building, we saw how a nonprofit organization and an artist-activist organizer both separately advance efforts to make Philadelphia and Pennsylvania more inclusive and more just. To the extent they and we are successful in ensuring health care access and shutting down migrant detention centers, our culture, communities, and institutions will take steps toward a world where we better recognize our cosmopolitan obligations to one another.

Time Commitment: 65 minutes

Application Question: What organizations, entities, or activists are advancing inclusion in your school, community, state, or country?

These kinds of efforts are numerous and diverse, but they share membership in a common conceptual category: civil society.

Columbia University Professor Jean Cohen and New School for Social Research Professor Andrew Arato define civil society as networks of individuals, families, and groups representing the values and interests of social autonomy in the face of both the modern state and the market economy. These networks, groups, and associations are the spaces through which people organize to push back against the power-maximizing logic of the state and profit-maximizing logic of the market economy. According to Cohen and Arato, the state perpetually aims to grow its power to control, while the market perennially pursues profit. Civil society, the state, and the market are in continuous interaction with one another, exerting pressures, demands, and arriving at compromises.

The title of this graphic is, "Civil Society & Global Activism." The following definition of civic society is depicted, "Civil society: the networks, groups, and organizations through which people cooperate to enact their values against the totalizing logics of the market (profit) and the state (power)."

For example, in the United States, market expansion throughout the Gilded Age and through the roaring twenties met with populist organizing that demanded state regulatory controls in the form of minimum wages, workplace safety, and a social safety net. These guarantees through the state resulted from civil society responses to a market demanding too much. Looking around our communities, across our countries, and around the world, we can identify abundant examples of civil society organizing to promote change that advances our obligations to one another – and even advances our obligations to the ecologies we are part of.

This graphic consists of a panoramic, aerial view of a densely populated swath of people. Beneath this image are the words that describe various products of organized communities and groups: weekends, cleaner rivers, rights to marry, girls in school, women in occupations they choose, protected lands, local food, and bicycle paths.

Many of these campaigns are rooted in local challenges. Often these challenges are part of broader structures of business and government, sometimes in the form of lack of regulation. In the US State of Ohio, for instance, the Cuyahoga River fire galvanized clean water and the environment as a public issue. The event is often credited with bringing larger networks of people together to fight against rampant, unchecked industrial pollution and sewage systems running directly into rivers. But it wasn’t the first river fire on the Cuyahoga and the Cuyahoga wasn’t especially unique. That’s just how things were. But people pushed back after Time magazine featured the 1969 fire in particular, and government then reigned in industry (and human waste systems, to some extent).

The Clean Water Act passed in 1972 – ensuring commitments to clean water across the United States. Forty-seven years later, the Cuyahoga, Delaware, Monongahela, Ohio, and Schuylkill Rivers, among others, are radically cleaner. You’d want cleaner rivers too:

This black and white picture shows a tugboat on fire. Thick black smoke fills the air while streams of water from fire houses try to douse the flames.
A fire tug fights flames on the Cuyahoga River near downtown Cleveland, Ohio, where oil and other industrial wastes caught fire June 25, 1952. When Canada and the United States approved the first version of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972, the running joke in Cleveland was that anyone unlucky enough to fall into the Cuyahoga River would decay rather than drown. The Cuyahoga, which meanders through the city before reaching Lake Erie, helped inspire the cleanup initiative by literally catching fire three years earlier. (AP Photo)

We see in this example people recognizing rampant pollution as a problem, organizing, and insisting that the state leverage its power to constrain the market – requiring producers and manufactures to give up some of their profit motive by following environmental regulations that at first glance certainly add costs. (But as we see time and time again, changing the rules that producers operate under also tends to spur innovation. For example, if car manufacturers know that they’re going to need to continuously improve fuel efficiency in order to meet federal standards, they work really hard at it).

People pushing on the state to regulate the market is one way that civil society makes its voices heard; another way is through insisting upon better outcomes and processes from the market. In an example of civil society activism that often transcends borders, fair trade movements are frequently people urging market actors (e.g., companies) to figure out ways to ensure a particular kind of quality in the production cycle (e.g. industry groups define, regulate, and make transparent what it means to have “fair trade” certification). This kind of process: people pushing on the market to create a new kind of market, though not depending on much government regulation in the process, exists in fairly traded coffee, chocolate, clothing, and lumber.

Greenpeace had a pretty witty campaign urging Mattel (the company that makes Barbie & Ken dolls) to stop getting its packaging from a particularly bad lumber supplier. Check out this three minute video, that was part of the campaign:

One of the more amazing things about civil society campaigns, given the extraordinary power of state and market actors, is that sometimes they’re successful. Greenpeace was successful in getting Asia Pulp and Paper to announce a Forest Conservation Policy after only three years of campaigning. And yet – one of the least surprising things about market and state actors is that they perpetually fight for profit and power. So five years later, other civil society actors were monitoring Asia Pulp and Paper Company’s progress, finding it to be insufficient, and publicizing that. The battle continues.

Many civil society-state-market battles are continuous dances, and many instances of these dances take place in situations where the center of power is quite distant from the communities that are most affected, like in the example above.

In the Philadelphia region, networks of Quakers developed something called Earth Quaker Action Team – a civic society organization that leveraged their activism and resources to stop Mountain Top Removal as part of coal mining. They saw it as a place where economic justice and climate justice coincided. So they took action:

There are a few things we want to emphasize.

  1. Neither state nor market is static. They are continuously changing structures. They are both rule-governed institutions, and those rules are made by people, acting to enact their values through civil society networks.
  2. Civil society is agnostic as a concept. It’s not dedicated to a particular set of values. All sorts of persons work to make state and market systems bend to their values. Civil society institutions, networks, and organizations include Black Lives Matter, The Catholic Church, the National Organization for Women, the National Rifle Association, etc. Cosmopolitans are committed to the interdependence of human life  – and we’re also concerned with the broader environment, so we emphasize pro-environment and pro-human dignity organizations.
  3. Sometimes groups of individuals have values that call them to opt-out of state and market systems to the extent possible. In these cases (people living on communes; Amish People, separatists), the civil society isn’t trying to influence the market and state systems so much as escape from them.
  4. The project is never finished. This is an ongoing process.

Before moving on, please read Artist activists, policy lobbyists, early childhood educators: The great diversities in making a difference (1,599 words, about a 12 minute read). That brief article integrates the concept of civil society, the values of cosmopolitanism, and the research of Providence College Professor Keith Morton and activist adrienne marie brown to identify five types of justice work to advance more just, inclusive, sustainable communities.

Reflective Questions

  1. After considering the article, The Great Diversities in Making a Difference, do you find yourself most drawn to the civil society work of charity, project, policy change, prefigurative politics, or visionary futurism? Where would you chart your previous community work or involvement among these categories? What category might you be curious to learn more about or perhaps try out?
  2.  What are the implications of takeaway point #4 above, “The project is never finished. This is an ongoing process.” How does that claim sit with you?

Speaking of ongoing processes, we’ve been alluding to it all along, and now we’re going to dive more directly into our last question in this module:

Please share feedback on this page by taking this brief survey. Thank you!

Next: Does global citizenship inadvertently ignore an essential element of interdependence – our shared ecology?

Citation for this page: Hartman, E. (2020). How do people organize to advance justice, inclusion, and sustainability? In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from

Further Reading

This image is of a book cover, "Civil Society and Political Theory," by Jean L. Cohen and Andrew Arato.
This image is of a book cover, "Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds," by adrienne maree brown.
This image is of a book cover, "Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics," by Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink.


Baffoni, S. (2018, February 5). NGOs Release Statement on 5 Year Anniversary of Asia Pulp and Paper Forest Conservation Policy | Environmental Paper Network. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from

Cohen, J. L., & Arato, A. (1994). Civil Society and Political Theory (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought) (Reprint ed., Vol. 1). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hartman, E., & Keene, S. (2019, August 28). Artist activists, policy lobbyists, early childhood educators: The great diversities in making a difference. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from

Latson, J. (2015, June 22). The Burning River That Sparked a Revolution. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from

Light, S., & MacDuffie, P. (2018, April 10). Fuel Economy Standards: How a Freeze Would Impact Innovation. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from

Scott, M. (2009, April 12). Cuyahoga River fire galvanized clean water and the environment as a public issue. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from

Skar, R. (2013, February 5). How you persuaded Asia Pulp & Paper to stop cutting down Indonesia’s rainforests. Retrieved May 7, 2020, from

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

Greenpeace USA. (2011, June 10). Barbie and Ken: The Breakup [Video file]. Retrieved from