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Self-governance, self-government, or autonomy is an abstract concept that applies to several scales of organization.
It may refer to personal conduct or family units or to larger scale activities including professions, industry bodies, religions, educational institutions, political units (usually referred to as local government), including autonomous regions or others within nation-states that enjoy some sovereign rights. It falls within the larger context of governance and principles such as consent of the governed, and may involve non-profit organizations and corporate governance.
It can be used to describe a person or many persons or a group being able to exercise all of the necessary functions of power without intervention from any authority that they cannot themselves alter. In addition to describing personal autonomy, "self-rule" is also associated with contexts in which there is the end of colonial rule, absolute government or monarchy as well as demands for autonomy by religious, ethnic or geographic regions which perceive themselves as being unrepresented or underrepresented in a national government. It is, therefore, a fundamental tenet of republican government and democracy as well as of nationalism. Gandhi's term "swaraj" (see also "satygraha") is a branch of this self-rule ideology.
Henry David Thoreau was a major proponent of self-rule in lieu of immoral governments.
This article focuses on the self-governance of professions, industries including unions, and formal or informal political units including ethnic or ethical 'nations' not defined by national borders, and of religious organizations, which have professional and political elements. There are many historical examples of such organizations or groups, and some, e.g. the Roman Catholic Church, the Freemasons, the Iroquois Confederacy, have histories going back centuries, including vast bodies of precedent and shared culture and knowledge.
A means of self-governance usually comprises at least the following: