Civil society is one of the most contentious terms in political thought. There is considerable, and highly significant, difference between academic debate about the meaning of ‘civil society’ and the way the term is mobilized in international development discourse. In particular, narratives of civil society in international development are often dominated by reference to organizational descriptions and measurability. But I would like to suggest here that the term should be reclaimed as a way of giving meaning to the stories of the everyday lives of the people who create, shape and embody civil society. Used in this way, the idea of civil society can be understood as intersecting emotions, discourses and practices and can add to the body of scholarly work that nurtures and values everyday life as a lens through which to view wider social processes. Paying attention to the everyday life of civil society may have implications for that way the civil society is engaged with academically, and also has the potential to refresh how civil society is thought about in development practice.