Civil society is regaining critical relevance after decades of attempts to suborn non-governmental organisations and more recent governmental manoeuvres in Western democracies to control activists and social advocates (Civicus, 2016). In this article, I suggest that contemporary struggles to keep the public terrain open for critical participatory politics must been seen against past neoliberal strategies for defining the salient concepts and functions of ‘good’ citizenship in terms of personal altruism or charitable philanthropy. In Britain, as well as in other countries, tropes of ‘community’ have offered a convenient template for facilitating neoliberal political agendas which privilege ideas about the essentially individualistic nature of volunteering and citizen participation. For decades, the project for creating a ‘post-welfare’ social contract has placed great emphasis on engineering participatory cultures among the citizenry in order to bolster their resilience in the face of deregulated, globalised capitalism. This article traces some of the key trends in British neoliberal communitarianism from its ordoliberal roots to the contemporary wave of participatory culture which appeals to productive citizenship, especially among the retired, unemployed and the young.
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