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Incorporated into the discourse of academics, policymakers and grassroots activists, of multilateral development agencies and local NGOs alike, "civil society" has become a topic of widespread discussion, but is there any common understanding of the term? How useful is it when applied to the South, and what difference does it make to bring the concept into the debate on development? This text explores the complex relationships among civil society, the state and market in the context of democratic development. Drawing on case studies from Africa, Asia and Latin America, it also unravels what is meant by development agencies - bilaterals, multilaterals, NGOs and international financial institutions, with their diverse approaches and agendas - when they refer to the urgent need to strengthen civil society.