With a focus on resource politics in Southeast Asia, we examine actually-existing public spheres and the opportunities, challenges and future trends for civil society to ensure accountability through them.


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Further Information

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Contact Dr. Carl Middleton for further details.

Project Status: Ongoing

Accountability through the Public Sphere

In Southeast Asia, civil society's attempts to maintain the accountability of state and non-state actors are achieved through various formal and informal means. One approach is to raise discussion and debate within the “public sphere”, which can be understood as a discursive arena where civil society can communicate and deliberate their opinions on key societal issues - for example on land grabbing, industrial and agricultural pollution, and energy planning and projects. The deliberation of the public sphere circulates within the mass media, social media, as well as in public forums and other venues. It is expected that those in political authority will respond meaningfully to issues raised by civil society within the public sphere, although in practice this accountability occurs only in part. 

Opportunities to utilize the public sphere for accountability vary across Southeast Asia, which has diverse political and the legal systems. However, overall it appears that the civil, political and media freedoms necessary for an active civil society and vibrant public sphere are increasingly challenged. There is a need to reflect on the implications of these trends, and explore established and new opportunities to maintain the accountability of state and non-state actors including through the  public sphere.

About the project

The purpose of this project is to understand actually-existing public-spheres in Southeast Asia and the work of civil society to ensure accountability through them, with a particular focus on natural resource governance. We will do this through co-produced research working with NGOs, academics, legal experts, journalists and others to evaluate the status, trends, challenges and opportunities in ensuring a vibrant public sphere for accountability. We emphasize the particularities of case studies as they occur on-the-ground, which in some cases involving transnational investment that may occur in multiple locations simultaneously and via extraterritorial processes.

The objectives of the project are:

  • Map out the different forms of ‘public sphere’ across the diverse political contexts of Southeast Asia

  • Understand the extent to which/ strategies through which civil society utilize these public spheres towards attaining accountability of state and influential non-state actors (such as transnational corporations), including protection of human rights

  • Contextualize the existing uses, opportunities and challenges of public spheres vis-à-vis other accountability mechanisms in Southeast Asia

The intended outcomes of this project is a deeper understanding of the variations and nuances of “accountability through the public sphere” across the diverse political contexts of Southeast Asia, and through this contribute towards global discussions, for example the Civic Charter

Project Team

This project is organized jointly by:

  • Foundation for Community Educational Media (FCEM)

  • Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS)

  • Heinrich Boell Stiftung Southeast Asia office