Civil society organizations (CSOs), also known as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or nonprofits, are facing difficult times. Since the mid-2000s, scholars, policy makers, and activists have been sounding alarm bells over the growing tendency of governments around the globe to restrict the ability of civil society groups to form, operate, advocate for particular causes, receive and use resources, and network with other actors. Different labels have been ascribed to this phenomenon, including ‘shrinking civic space’, ‘closing civic space’, and ‘closing civil society space’. While these labels vary in their meaning, clarity, and usefulness, what does seem to be clear is that there has been a significant and negative global shift in state-civil society relations since the turn of the millennium, with organizations increasingly unable to operate as freely as they could in earlier periods. The contributions in this special issue examine trends in the how particular types of civil society organizations are impacted by the clampdown, how restrictions can change the balance between civil society actors with rival ideological perspectives, how restrictions can enable the rise of new civil society actors attacking existing CSOs, and how restrictions can shape popular attitudes and donor funds. Importantly, the contributions in this issue also shed light on how organizations respond to restrictions and attempt to push back against states.
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