Civil society organization

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Civil society organization is a vague and ill-defined term that sometimes refers to nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations and sometimes refers to a broader class of organizations important in the creation, operation or maintenance of civil society.

Alexis de Tocqueville outlined the case for civil associations (a.k.a. voluntary associations as important civil society organizations in Democracy in America. In separate chapters, De Tocqueville's discussion differentiated voluntary associations from political associations and newspapers in particular.

Newspapers, for example, are typically organized as for-profit businesses in many parts of the world. Yet few - particularly the newspapers themselves - would deny their important role in civil society. Likewise, 18th century London coffeehouses were typically commercial operations and 18th and 19th century salons in Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, and other cities in other societies ordinarily took place in the private homes of their aristocratic or noble sponsors. Yet, few would deny their status as seminally important civil society organizations. Similarly, educational institutions, regardless of whether they are public, commercial, nonprofit, family-owned, joint-stock corporations, or organized in some other manner would likewise be considered important civil society organizations by most authorities. The same could be said for religious organizations, labor unions, political parties, interest groups and trade associations, cooperatives, foundations, credit unions, and numerous other, similar organizations.