This article outlines the meanings of civil society covering theoretical and development policy debates. It traces the evolution of conceptualisations of civil society noting how diversity in type, function and scale are critical in understanding these changes. The role of non-governmental organisations within development policy is explored highlighting how the euphoria over civil society has been tempered over time, reflecting how Gramscian interpretations have begun to replace neo-Tocquevillian viewpoints. The article also examines how civil society operates over different scales from local to global to transnational, assessing and critiquing the rise of global civil society or what is more appropriately called ‘transnational civil society’. The article finishes by highlighting the importance of diasporic civil society in relation to migrant groups especially from a development viewpoint as well as the need for more research on this issue. Conceptually, the article argues for a more sophisticated Gramscian interpretation of civil society that also recognises the importance of spatiality in the complex interpenetration between an increasingly extra-territorialised state and an increasingly transnational civil society. Thus, it presents a re-framing of development perspectives on the non-state sector from local to global to transnational scales.