The extraordinary attention raised by civil society in the academic world and in national and international circuits of public policymakers has paradoxically contributed to overshadow civil organisations, their diversity, the logics of their actions, and the dynamics of their interaction with other actors. Thus in spite of such success - and, to a large degree, due to it - surprisingly little is known about the modus operandi of civil organisations. By penetrating the 'backstage' of civil society, this paper intends to bring up and understand issues that are not often addressed in literature as well as to advance in generating answers based on empirical knowledge. More precisely, applying network analysis to relational data from a survey conducted in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, in 2002, it addresses how do civil organisations work? That is, which are the distinct logics of action and internal interaction dynamics that organise the universe of those societal actors? In order to allow its systematic empirical treatment, the answering of such a question will be entirely relational and will be done through network analysis. This paper brings at least three interesting findings: firstly, there is a remarkable diffuse connectivity between São Paulo-based civil organisations; secondly, it is a highly hierarchised universe of actors where popular organisations, NGOs, and coordinating bodies occupy central positions, privileged by higher capability for action and choice, while clearly peripheral neighbourhood associations, community associations, and service non-profit organisations are dependent upon the former group and have limited options for action; thirdly, preferential links were found between certain types of organisations. Such links always follow the same direction: from peripheral organisations towards those with more reach and capability for action or, not surprisingly, from privileged organisations to other equally privileged ones.
IDS Working Paper No. 299, Brighton, UK, 67 pp.