Call for Papers

CONTRADICTIONS - Toward a Critique of Civil Society

19th Jun 2018


A Journal for Critical Thought

Call for Papers: Toward a Critique of Civil Society


When liberal capitalism swept through Central and Eastern Europe in the years after 1989, it was accompanied not only by the ideals of electoral democracy, but also by the notion of “civil society.” Engaged citizens, active outside the structures of formal political power, were heralded as the force that would guarantee civil rights, enforce social justice, and hold state power in check. These emancipatory ideals, however, carry with them an ambivalent legacy. The notion of civil society not only promoted civic engagement but also encouraged some sorts of engagement while discouraging others. In doing so, it provided a legitimating ideal for the emerging social order while shaping and delimiting the forms of criticism that could be leveled against it, channeling public discourse toward some questions (such as cultural identity) and away from others (such as fundamental social and economic structure).The division between civil and political society is not politically neutral in its effects, but structures social action; and the uncritical acceptance of this division may help conserve an existing system of institutions that are based on it.

In the 2019 volume of Contradictions we add to our standing call for papers (see below “About Contradictions”) a call on authors to critically examine the notion of civil society, calling attention not only to what the notion holds up as its goal, but also to what it presupposes and what it may exclude and conceal. In particular, we would like to delve into the conditions of possibility and the social effect of establishing a dichotomy between civil society and political society, and we call for investigation into the ambiguous, often invisible position of economic society within the conceptual framework established by the notion of civil society. Moreover, if the ideals of civil society appear to be in crisis, losing their grip on popular consciousness, we ask whether this might reflect longstanding contradictions contained within civil society discourse, including potential points of continuity between the liberal conception of civil society and the rising illiberal discourse of social exclusion and opposition toward non-citizens. With this in mind, we consider the way the notion of civil society defines legitimate political actors as citizens while presenting other actors as insufficiently civil or civilized. Does this attention to citizens and the civic dimensions of social life serve to exclude non-citizens—and all those who are considered uncivil—from politics, as well as from economic and social rights, thereby undermining the frequent claims that civil society is fundamentally tolerant and open?  We therefore call for submissions that

 – examine the intellectual genealogy and theoretical consequences of the division between civil and political society, as well as the eventual exclusion of economic society from many contemporary conceptions of civil society; 

 – investigate the historical role of the notion of “civil society” in the critique of Soviet-type society, in light of the continuity and discontinuity between dissident thought before 1989 and liberal thought after 1989; and ask whether, and in what form, the legacy of civil society discourse might contribute to emancipatory discourse today;

 – discuss the ambiguous role played by the notion of civil society in the historic “transition to democracy” and market capitalism in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990’s, when civil society was presented both as a factor dampening the harshest effects of the free market and as an ideal that, combined with the ideals of liberal democracy, legitimated market society as such;

 – analyze the social role and emancipatory or conservative potential of those practices and institutions that are typically held up as examples of civil society, such as non-partisan political initiatives, the intellectual public sphere, and the so-called non-profit or non-governmental sector;

 – explore conceptually related notions like “citizenship” and, arguably, “civilization,” and their problematic place in contemporary political and theoretical discourse; and

 – consider how political and social theory should account for the role of non-citizens (or of those who are considered non-ideal citizens because citizenship is constructed according to established ideals of gendered, sexual, racialized, ethnicized, and able-bodied citizens) and of migration between multiple loci of citizenship and non-citizenship.

Send submissions, in English, Czech, or Slovak, in formats *.rtf, *.odt, *.doc, or *.docx, to by September 28, 2018


Contradictions, published once a year as a double issue in multilingual format (one part in English and one part in Czech and Slovak), aims to assess and creatively revive radical intellectual traditions of Central and Eastern Europe, bringing them to bear on the historical present and bringing them into international discussions of emancipatory social change. With that in mind, we also welcome submissions that go beyond this thematic call and address the continuing interests of our journal: 1) underexamined or overlooked aspects of the history of radical left thought in Central and Eastern Europe (with attention both to historical significance and contemporary relevance); 2) related and parallel traditions of thought originating in other regions, which can be brought into conversation with the traditions of Central and Eastern Europe (taking into consideration questions of centrality and marginality or “Easternness” as questions of global concern); 3) the analysis of Soviet-type societies and their troubled relationship with historical and contemporary movements for social emancipation; and 4) the ideological assumptions and social conditions of what has come to be known as “post-communism.”


Contradictions accepts submissions in the following categories:

 – “Studies” and “essays”: These may be articles of a more or less traditional academic character, or more essayistic contributions that break with some of the conventions of scholarly form. Texts may be up to 12,000 words long (including notes and citations), as long as the text’s length is justified by the needs of the author’s argument. Include a list of key words and an abstract of approximately 200 – 300 words. All studies and most essays will be subject to independent peer review.

 – “Discussion contributions”: polemical texts addressing a theme of particular interest to the journal’s readership, often reacting to texts already published in the journal. Approximately 2500-5000 words.

 – “Translations” and “materials”: Here we include important contributions to Central/Eastern European social thought that can be brought to international attention in English translation; internationally important works in new Czech or Slovak translations; and previously unpublished or long-unavailable “materials,” accompanied by annotation that presents the materials’ significance to contemporary readers (these may be submitted in English, Czech, or Slovak). 3000-10,000 words.

 – “Reviews” of recent publications in critical social thought. Reviews may be brief (1000-2500 words) or may constitute longer “review essays” (2500-7500 words). A list of books suggested for review will be made available on the journal website. If you are interested in writing a review, contact Daniel Swain ( for reviews to be published in English and Ľubica Kobová ( for reviews to be published in Czech or Slovak.

For more information, including citation style, visit