The Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 19, 2001
February 19, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 22


Civil Society is Topic of All-JHU Colloquium

Faculty in many disciplines expected at event focused on a growing field of study

By Glenn Small

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

When Lester Salamon, who is director of IPS' Center for Civil Society Studies, broached the subject of an all-Hopkins colloquium on the growing field of civil society, he was "amazed" and "surprised" by the number of Hopkins faculty and researchers doing work in the field--and by the enthusiastic response he got to his idea.

Economists, philosophers, political scientists, public health researchers, historians--Salamon found interest and enthusiasm from all parts of the university.

"I was incredibly surprised, pleasantly surprised," Salamon said, "both by the number working in the area but also by the interest this has generated among faculty members. It's not only numbers, but it's also diversity, all throughout the university."

As many as 60 faculty members, staff, researchers and students will attend the day-long Johns Hopkins All-University Colloquium on Civil Society, which will be held this Friday on the Homewood campus. Fifteen of those coming will make presentations, among them M. Ali Khan, the Abram Hutzler Professor of Political Economy.

Khan and others said that bringing together an array of Hopkins faculty from different departments is a great idea and one well-suited to an institution the size of Hopkins.

"In larger research universities," said Thomas Berger, an associate professor of political science in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, departments get so large that "they become a world in and of themselves. We are small enough that the scale encourages and makes it easier to communicate across these boundaries."

Berger, who will make a presentation on civil society and democracy in Asia, said he is looking forward to the exchange. "It'll be interesting."

Khan, who will talk about the role of trust in civil society, said that while a cross-disciplinary colloquium like this can be exciting, it's also "high risk," and something he equated with jumping into the "deep end of the pool" because it gets people out of their comfort zones.

"If there's an article that's not in your field, you can ignore it," said Khan. "But if the author is standing there and making the same comments, you feel more constrained to reply, and then hopefully something positive will come out."

Civil society generally refers to the so-called "third sector," or the area between government and the market. It includes everything from church groups to Greenpeace to other nonprofits and embraces the idea of "social capital," which Salamon explains as "this new form of capital that has to do with what holds communities together and allows them to function."

The topics to be covered are as varied as those participating and include:

What happens when Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals attempt to merge, a presentation by Laura Morlock, a professor of health policy management in the School of Public Health.

"Culture and Commerce," a discussion on whether art museums are becoming commercialized, presented by Stefan Toepler, an associate research scientist at the Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.

A discussion of "AIDS and Civil Society" by Chris Beyrer, director of the Fogarty AIDS Program in the School of Public Health.

"Civility and Civil Society," a presentation by Pier Massimo Forni, a professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in the Krieger School.

The idea of civil society has become quite the hot topic around the world, said Berger, mentioning that members of the World Bank, for instance, now talk of looking to this sector to solve problems, whereas 15 years ago, all the talk was about privatization and the market.

One presenter who is not so enthusiastic about this increased enthusiasm for the civil society sector is Matthew A. Crenson, a professor of political science who is writing a book with Ben Ginsberg, also a professor of political science, called "Citizens Into Customers: How America Downsized Citizenship and Privatized Its Public."

"Lately, civil society has been a kind of buzzword," Crenson said. "Everybody loves it, but Ben and I are raising some questions about it."

For instance, Crenson said, since the 1970s, there has been an explosion of interest groups in the United States, but many of them have virtually no members and don't really mobilize citizens to achieve a goal but get what they want through other means, such as the courts or regulatory procedures.

Salamon said he's looking forward to an interesting exchange and hopes the colloquium will inspire cooperative research projects and possibly future colloquiums.

A few spaces are still available for the event, which will be held in Levering Hall. Anyone interested in attending should call 410-516-7182.