Since the first edition of this book was published in 2004, the number of searches for "civil society" recorded by Google each year has fallen by 70 percent 1 - not a particularly rigorous indicator of interest and support perhaps, but surprising to those like me who once saw civil society as "the big idea for the century to come," as I put it in my original Preface. Of course, people still organize themselves for voluntary, collective action, and episodes like the "Arab Spring" continue to hit the headlines, only to subside into less intense activity once the streets and squares have been cleared of protestors and police. Perhaps this is inevitable given that such bursts of civic energy are difficult to sustain after their immediate causes have been addressed, and in the face of widespread repression and insecurity. As I write this Preface the same script is being re-enacted in Istanbul's Taksim Square and across the cities of Brazil - met, as usual, by tear gas and batons rather than by greater openness to reforms. Even the few positive attempts by politicians to nurture civic action have receded, with Britain's "Big Society" getting smaller by the day, and little sign that widespread grassroots participation in Barack Obama's re-election campaign has had any impact on the willingness of his government to pursue a more radical agenda in the USA.
To me, however, these facts change little about the significance of civil society in the long-term evolution of politics and culture. The reality of activism in most settings has always been less glamorous than the headlines may suggest, and strong social movements are comparatively rare. The power that people have to shape their societies is usually channeled through their day-to-day participation in voluntary associations and communities; churches, mosques and synagogues; labor unions, political parties and other expressions of "normal" civic life. In chapter 2 , I use the metaphor of civil society as an iceberg with its peaks above the waterline in the form of high-profile organizations and events, and the great mass of civic interaction hidden underneath. Examples like the Arab Spring are significant in and of themselves, but perhaps of longer-term importance is what is happening below the surface. Since the early 2000s there is increasing evidence that much of the "ice" is melting as face-to-face civic interaction becomes less popular or more difficult to sustain. Or perhaps the "iceberg" is simply reshaping itself under the influence of new developments in technology, social media and the market, with consequences for civil society that may be positive, negative, or somewhere in between. It is these longer-term, subterranean developments that are the focus of the third edition of this book.
One of the benefits of revising a manuscript at regular intervals is that new ideas and interpretations can be added along the way. I have received a good deal of critical feedback from readers who have used this book in academic courses, commissions of inquiry, policy-making processes, public education, and strategic planning for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations and other donor agencies. So in this revision I have added two new sections on subjects that have developed rapidly since the second edition was produced in 2009. The first concerns the overlaps between civil society and the market that are producing an interesting breed of hybrid institution variously known as social enterprises or social entrepreneurs, backed up by "venture philanthropy," "impact investing" and other forms of financing that are heavily influenced by business thinking. These issues are treated in chapter 3 as a potentially important shift in the ways in which we understand the constitution of the good society.