This research cluster employs an interdisciplinary approach to analyse the dynamically expanding role of civil society in contemporary Asia.


What distinguishes Asian civil society from civil society in North America, Europe or Latin America? How does this sector shape social and economic policies in the region?

Civil society is one of the most dynamically expanding sectors in contemporary Asian society, from anti-nuclear protests in post-Fukushima Japan to NGOs' responses to disasters in Southeast Asia. Originally a product of Western thinking, civil society represents a particular set of relationships between the state and society or individual. It constitutes a key part of the public sphere and includes non-state institutions and associations that are critical to sustaining modern democratic participation. Each culture, however, moulds its own version of civil society, reflecting distinctive values and traditions.

This research cluster addresses the growing interest in capturing the dynamic nature of civil society in Asia. This is done through a pluralistic and interdisciplinary research approach. Research projects in this cluster focus on five issues:

  • Transnational civil society
  • Intersectionality, focusing on human rights issues
  • Comparative studies in democracy and authoritarianism
  • Civil society and media
  • Social welfare

Image: Basile Morin. Six children standing in the Mekong river, some with lotus flower buds in their hands, bathing with buffalos at sunset in front of a boat. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International


Dr Anthony Spires of the Asia Institute, Faculty of Arts, the University of Melbourne talks about his research focus which is on civil society in China.
Professor Akihiro Ogawa of the Asia Institute, Faculty of Arts, the University of Melbourne started his research program on civil society in the 1990s. Today he is documenting the development of civil society in post-Fukoshima Japan.