‘Civil society’ has emerged as one of the essentially contested concepts in political modernity. It includes a variety of differing and conflicting views and perspectives. These are visible beyond the academic debate also in the context of political theory and struggles. For some, global civil society represents a forceful and promising response to the ‘democratic deficit’ as one of the hitherto most problematic aspects within the globalization process. But more critical objections are also prominent. They concern the enthusiasm about the notion of a global civil society (as well as the use of the concept of civil society as such) and the various developments it represents. These contradictory positions are inviting for further reflections. Most contributors to this special issue of Development Dialogue are part of the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (Riksbankens Jubiléumsfond) Sector Committee for Research on Civil Society. They presented their work in progress to the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January 2007, where a closer collaboration with the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation was established. The contributions to this volume testify to the contested nature of the concept and invite for further reflections.