AN EXAMINATION OF THE SPACE OF THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM (WSF) IN COUNTERING NEO-LIBERAL GLOBALIZATION
Following the neo-liberal globalization censure in the early 1980s, the World Social Forum (WSF) originated a slogan ‘Another World Is Possible’ with an intention to counter-hegemonic forces and to further ‘affirm the existence of a counter-hegemonic globalization’. This easy sought among others things to examine the space of the WSF in countering neo-liberal globalization. The easy will consider whether to describe WSF as a ‘space’ or as a ‘movement’ and critically analyse the role of the WSF amidst criticism, challenges and prospect of the WFS in creating another world devoid of exploitation, repression and subjugation.
Following the neo-liberal globalization censure in the early 1980s, the World Social Forum (WSF) originated a slogan ‘Another World Is Possible’ with an intention to counter-hegemonic forces. The divide of the left in confronting the global north was characterised by massive failure hence the need for a new political thinking. The World Social Forum (WSF) is a new political reflect that proclaimed ‘another kind of dance’ orchestrated predominantly by scholars, militants, activists, NGOs, social movements and civil society. It is an open space for those who see the world from a different lens and are committed to creating a new world. For over three decades, the neo-liberal globalization presented a utopian world where everything is assumed to be perfect and therefore any attempt to challenge the status quo will be an effort in futility. However, the WSF is position to challenge the status quo and change the narratives.
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The WSF represents a new paradigm shift from the conventional political thinking that confronts the western ‘hegemonic thinking’ of the Western powers. The uniqueness of the WSF is demonstrated in a broader outreach cut across continents of the world which clearly signify a popular participatory democracy with the message of hope ‘that another world is possible’. It is an attempt to create a global space for unrestricted crusaders with the ambition to counter-hegemonic neo-liberal globalization. Even though the WSF is threatened with challenges, oppositions and criticism, it has potentials and prospects to achieve so much for the struggles for liberation of the marginalised ‘global South’. The following part of this easy will describe in greater details the notion of World Social Forum.
WHAT’S ‘WORLD SOCIAL FORUM’?
The world Social forum is a concerted effort to have a global space where social activist all over the world could meet and synergised their ideas, strengths, knowledge and share experiences among each other with the sole aim of resisting neoliberal globalization, challenging empires and changing the narratives. It all started in Porto Algre (Brazil) in January 2001 where the gladiators of the World Social Forum (WSF) met for the first time where the proponents of ‘alternative to neoliberal globalization and counter-hegemonic globalization’ were brought together to discuss the possibilities of creating a new world. It was a gathering of different groups united for one purpose. The people gathered were not defined by creed, race, colour, ethnicity, religious or political orientation. It was the gathering of aggrieved with an undying quest for liberation from the shackles of capitalist states and hegemonic institutions.
In addition, it is very important to state here that the WSF is a representation of the convergence of different social and political thinkers geared towards countering neoliberal hegemonic globalization. As posited by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, ‘’The World Social Forum is a new social and political phenomenon. The fact that it does have antecedent does not diminish its newness, quite the opposite’’. Following the serious drawbacks and the collapse of communism and socialist societies, there was a need to rejuvenate the struggles to confront the drive for capitalism been promoted by the global North. The precursor of the WSF began in the year 2000 with the group of about fifty social engineers representing social groups converged in Davos in attendance was Samir Amin, the Director of the Third World Forum who is considered as a Marxist and a socialists and has persistently challenged imperialist globalisation. Their meeting was to brimstone and proffer solutions on how to counter-hegemonic neoliberal globalization. Having discussed the notion of WSF, it is now necessary to decipher whether the WSF is ‘space’ or a ‘movement’.
WORLD SOCIAL FORUM (WSF) A ‘SPACE’ OR ‘MOVEMENT’
The question of whether WSF is ‘space’ or a ‘movement’ is divided along two different viewpoints. There are those who perceived the WSF as a ‘movement of movements’, while the other viewpoints consider it as a ‘space’ that promote unity and inclusion on the basis of equality. Thus, it may be argued that for one to understand the true position of the WSF, reference must be made to the WSF charter, which has unambiguously asserted that:
‘’The WSF is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and linking up for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a global society of fruitful relationships among human beings and between humans and the earth’’
Thus, the conception of the WSF as ‘space’ resonates with the charter and the vision of the founding fathers of the WSF. In the words of Whitaker (one of the founding fathers):
‘’… those who want to transform it (the WSF) into a movement will end up, if they succeed, by working against our common cause, whether they are aware or not of what they are doing, whether they are movements or political parties, and however important, strategically urgent and legitimate their objectives might be. They will be effectively acting against themselves and against all of us. They will be hindering and suffocating its own source of life – or at least destroying an enormous instrument that is available for them to expand and to enlarge their presence in the struggle we are all engaged in’’.
The above quotation by one of the pioneers and founding member of the WSF has further reaffirmed the position of the school of thought that conceived the WSF as ‘space’ which is purposefully and consciously designed to be as such accordingly and not essentially a movement. Also as posited by Peter Waterman; WSF can better be understood as a ‘space’ rather than ‘movement’. The vision to establish a ‘global space’ for social crusaders is the mission of the ‘World Social Forum’. Therefore, the World Social Forum is a space created to connect civil society groups from around the world. The ‘space’ created by the WSF is a meeting point for social engineers to voice out their grievances and collectively proffer solutions that address diverse issues confronting the global south. The charter of the WSF was conscripted by the Organizing Committee in Brazil in the year 2001. It is argued that the World Social Forum is not just an occasion, it is neither an academic meeting, although academicians are part of it, it is not an NGO or ‘movement of movements’, the fact that most of its promoters are from there. It is also not ‘an agent of social change’ thus, WSF is a space for the ‘struggle against discrimination, exclusion and oppression’ of the marginalised global south.
In the light of the above, we live in a world that is characterised by inequality, discrimination and exclusion perpetuated by the global north. The World Social Forum is an open space for movements and social reformers on equal grounds. Space is open for different groups of people to advance their struggle against inequality, discrimination, the act of inhumanity to humanity and the dictatorship of the neo-liberal globalization. The space created by the World Social Forum celebrates diversity and cross-pollinations of ideas and as well as serve as an engine room that empowers the anti-neoliberal globalization activist. The space created by the world social forum is unique, diverse and ever willing to accommodate different shields of ideas as many as possible without discrimination or claiming to be a representative of the participants or speaking on their behalf.
In a nutshell, WSF is not a ‘movement of movement’ as may be wrongly alleged. It is an open space for all kinds of movements, NGOs, civil society organisations, scholars and seasoned activists with one sole aim of standing as a united force to dismantle the forces of neoliberal hegemonic globalization.
It is, therefore, safer to say that ‘the World Social Forum will certainly leave its mark on this new century, and organisations such the Organisation For Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will have to listen to its participants, through those horizontal and democratic networks known as civil society. These networks are the only means through which the increasingly shared responsibility of all the inhabitants of the planet can muster sufficient power or really bring about ‘another world’. Be that as it may be, I will proceed to discuss the role of the World Social Forum.
THE ROLE OF THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM (WSF)
‘’The rallying cry of the World Social Forum is ‘Another World is Possible’. It has become a platform where hundreds of conversations, debates and seminars have helped to hone and refine a vision of what kind of world it should be’’.The WSF plays different roles both at the global, regional, national and at the local levels in line with its Charter of principles.
The WSF has been playing a pivotal role in challenging imperialist powers. The forum has mobilised views across the globe to challenge the US war on Iraq. This was a global outcry against a perceived injustice on the sovereign state of Iraq. The incidence generated a strong opposition to neoliberalism and George Bush’s led war on Iraq. Even though, the US completed their mission in Iraq, the attention of the world was drowned to the fact that an act of inhumanity was perpetrated in Iraq and someday history may be brought to mind and the US may be called upon to give an account of the jungle justice.
The promotion of democracy- WSF has confronted neoliberal capitalism which has taken centre stage in our world’s today. The forum has continued to challenge the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Union (EU) for not being democratic. Thus, the launching of the EU referendum campaign to promote popular democracy by encouraging young persons and women in the EU to actively participate in the governance of their states. This is one of the crucial role of the WSF in raising questions and proffering solutions to issues that has a direct bearing on the people. One may consider this a pivotal role because democracy is what gives legitimacy to any existing government of a given state.
Also, the WSF has consistently promoted ‘’the creation of an open space for a free and equal exchange of thoughts and Action’’. The import of this can be seen in the number of people that actively participated in the first meeting of the WSF in 2001. It was reported that twenty-five thousand (25,000) people participated in the first meeting and more than one hundred thousand (100,000) in 2009. It can, therefore, be argued convincingly that the forum has created an alternative to capitalist globalization. In other words, the WSF is playing a role of giving people the freedom to be heard, freedom to participate and freedom for the most vulnerable groups such as women and young persons to connect their voices and contribute to societal development while looking forward to the possibility of a ‘new global order’. The pivotal role of the WSF in freeing humanity from the shackle of colonization of the mind cannot be overemphasised even by those who are critics of its activities. People are being gathered across the section of the world to discuss issues and ideas brought forward by the WSF in their quest to change the narratives of the world. The awareness of the ills of neoliberal globalization and the drive to resist it is more projected nowadays. It is therefore apt to draw an analytical conclusion that the WSF is playing a key role in reshaping the world order. Moving on now to consider the challenges of the World Social Forum.
THE CHALLENGES OF THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM (WSF)
Just like any other human endeavour, the WSF has its challenges, even though these challenges are subject to be contested they remain tension area that must be critically examined in this easy.
The issue of ‘Internal Democracy’ is called to question. The power to plan the WSF is vested on the International Council (IC) while the Organizing Committee retain the executive powers which are primarily made up of Brazilian organisations. This situation became a great challenge to the future development of the WSF as a global space. Even though the IC later expanded their membership to include the representative from other jurisdiction. This arrangement does not prognosticate well for the future of the WSF following its claim as a global space for people of the world. Thus, it has been argued that the WSF is still undergoing a reformation, however, it is yet to properly settle its internal democracy. This is a tension area that must be properly resolved because the challenge of internal democracy is capable of casting doubt on how really the WSF is a global space.
Another challenge of the WSF is ‘’transparency and hierarchies in participation. It has been alleged that resolutions are made in the WSF by the few clusters without carrying other assemblages along and the issue of selecting guest speakers is carried out under questionable circumstances lacking in transparency . These are sensitive depressing challenges that if treated with levity may extinguish the forum out of existence. These are areas that were introduced as what ought to be changed at the WSF in 2004, 2005, and 2006 respectively.
Size and continuity is another tension area in an attempt to counter-hegemonic globalisation by the WSF. Since the inception of the WSF, the population of attendees has been increasing every year. It has been argued that the WSF is a victim of its size, hence the mammon crowd is continuously unprecedented and difficult to managed. Be that as it may, proponents of the WSF should devise a strategy of how to control the growing population of the WSF. They must also be reminded that the strength and the usefulness of the SWF lie in its global acceptance and membership. It is therefore apt to turn this challenge into strength. It on this note that I submit that the beauty of the WSF is global outreach and the large membership which conscious efforts must be sustained. It must always be remembered that the WSF is a global space that accommodates all shields of ideas from different groups. Having discussed the challenges of the WSF, I will proceed to discuss criticism against the WSF.
THE CRITICISM AGAINST THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM
The World Social Forum since its inauguration in 2001 in Brazil has been under perilous criticism. Under this heading, I will make an attempt to discuss some of those critics and give an analysis of the criticism. Below are some of the criticism:
The World Social Forum has been criticised of been an elitist space. The proponents of this viewpoint submit that strategies and the idea of the WSF to create an alternative to neoliberal hegemonic globalization is made by the few privileged groups as against the popular participation by the vast majority of all the interest groups made up of the forum. One may be right to argue that the criticism raise above is not rooted in any substantial fact. This is because an in-depth look at Paragraph 1-14 of the Principles of the World Social Forum will review the obvious that the WSF is unambiguously a space for everybody irrespective of one’s station in life. The charter of the forum is clear about who should participate and should not participate. As a matter of fact, the guiding principle of the WSF is equality, freedom and popular participation and that is why the proponent of the WSF has continued to emphasise that the World Social Forum is ‘space’ that accommodates all shields of ideas. The criticism went on to accuse the WSF of featuring 30% of participants who have post-graduate and 80% of participants have access to the internet. Again, it is pertinent to emphasise here that, the WSF’s charter doesn’t discriminate base on one’s educational attainment or illiteracy basis. It is a space for both illiterate and the educated ones. Membership and participation are by one’s volition. The WSF does not have the mandate to provide internet services to the people of the global south or the marginalised. Therefore lack of education and internet access cannot be used as a yardstick to measure the performances of the Forum.
Another criticism against the WSF is the issue of ‘Funding’. There is a criticism against the WSF is that forum that took place in Nairobi shuts it door against the periphery groups for lack admission fee and that the Ford Foundation funded participating organisations as such, proponents of imperialist powers became part of creating an alternative world. In order to counter this criticism attention will be drawn to the charter of the WSF (See the Principles of the WSF ) which does not have any controlling power over the participating organisations. The proponent of the WSF has always and are consistent to emphasised that ‘the WSF is not a ‘movement of movement’. In the words of Boaventura De Sousa Santos:
…It is (WSF) not an event, nor a mere succession of events. It is not a scholarly conference, although the contributions of many scholars converge in it. It is not a party or an international of parties, although militants and activists of many parties all over the world take part in it. It is not an NGO or a confederation of NGOs, even though its conception and organisations owe a great deal to them. It is not a social movement, even though it often designates itself as a movement of movements…
The quotation above will put to rest the unfounded criticism that WSF is funded by the Ford Foundation through its participating organisation. Also on the criticism of the periphery organisation not been able to pay the admission fee is baseless. This is because the WSF does not have an obligation of paying the fee of participating organisations whether rich or poor.
Having said that, it must be pointed out here that, constructive criticism is healthy for a global space like the WSF. Constructive criticism has a way of serving as check and balances. For example when the WSF was inaugurated in Porto Alegre, January 2001, Africans and Asians were not represented however, constructive criticism played a vital role and today, Africa and Asians are well represented in the activities of the WSF. On this note, I will discuss the future of the WSF in the succeeding section of this easy.
THE FUTURE OF THE WSF
‘’Another World is Possible’’. This is the slogan of the WSF that herald the new beginning of a new thinking that contradicts the hegemonic thinking of the global north over the past years. It is a thinking that provide the global south with a space that brings organisations, civil societies, NGOs, scholars, activist and militants to rally round each other with the hope of providing an alternative to hegemonic neoliberal globalization that has held the world at standstill with draconian social and economic policies teleguide toward discrimination, exploitation, marginalisation and widespread of poverty. Consequently, the future of the WSF is the future of optimism and expectation for a world where men and women will not only be seen to be equal but equal indeed. This future may not be visible for now but with determination, hard work, collaborations of movements all over the world will make the future visible. It is on this premises that, that another world envisioned by the conveners of the WSF will be a reality. In this light, to analyse the future of the WSF simply means, we must look ahead where the forum want to be and for us to determine where the forum want to be is the responsibilities of all the stakeholders from global, national, regional and local actors who subscribe to the principles of the WSF. It is, therefore, safer to hold a strong view that, the future of the WSF is to counter and dismantle the stronghold of hegemonic neoliberal globalization and present a new world characterised by equality, fair play, peace and tranquillity. It is on this note that I proceed to draw my conclusion.
This easy has analysed the notion of the World Social Forum as a global space for social crusaders in an attempt to counter neo-liberal globalization by critically examining what the WSF means by being a ‘space’ for the global activists. The role of the WSF came under intense analyses as well as the challenges and criticism against the forum and of course the future of the WSF has been x-ray that it is a future of expectation for a better world for all people of the world.
- Williams F Fisher and Thomas Ponniah, ‘Another World is Possible’(2006).
- Boaventura de Sousa Santos ‘The World Social Forum and the Global Left’ (2007).
- World Social Forum: Challenging Empires, edited by Jai Sen, and Peter Waterman, Black Rose Books, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/warw/detail.action?docID=746853.
- Boaventura De Souse Santos, The Rise of the Global Left (first published 2006, Zed Books Ltd 2006).
- Social Movements World Network Websites; Vargas 2003; Whitaker 2003; World Social Forum Website.
- Patomäki, H., & Teivainen, T. (2004). The World Social Forum: An Open Space or a Movement of Movements? Theory, Culture & Society, 21(6), 145–154. <https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276404047421>, accessed 17 December 2018.
- Chico Whitaker is the Brazilian Justice and Peace Commission representative to the WSF Organisation Committee and International Secretariat. Mr Whitaker’s new book, The World Social Forum Challenge, is published in Portuguese. He has written several articles, including “Notes about the World Social Forum”, which is available in English and French at the WSF website.
- <http://oecdobserver.org/news/archivestory.php/aid/1565/The_World_Social_Forum.html,> accessed 17 December 2018
- Boaventura De Sousa Santos and Cesar A. Rodriguez-Garavito, Law and Globalization from Below, Cambridge Studies in Law and Society (2005).
- Jai Sen and Peter Waterman, World Social Forum Challenging Empires (2009).
- Owen Worth & Karen Buckley (2009) The World Social Forum: postmodern prince or court jester?, Third World Quarterly, Vol.30, No. 4, 2009.
- The Principles of the World Social Forum; Approved and Adopted in Sao Paulo, on April 9, 2001.
<http://fsmm2018.org/principles-of-the-world-social-forum/?lang=en,> accessed 17 December 2018
- Boaventura De Sousa Santos, World Social Forum: Toward A Counter-Hegemonic Globalisation (PART I) <https://www.alainet.org/en/active/10945,> accessed 17 December 2018
 Williams F Fisher and Thomas Ponniah, ‘Another World is Possible’(2006) pp 4
 Boaventura de Sousa Santos ‘The World Social Forum and the Global Left’ (2007) PL 4.
 World Social Forum: Challenging Empires, edited by Jai Sen, and Peter Waterman, Black Rose Books, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,
 Boaventura De Souse Santos, The Rise of the Global Left (first published 2006, Zed Books Ltd 2006) 120
 Williams F Fisher and Thomas Ponniah, ‘Another World is Possible’(2006) pp 354
 Social Movements World Network Websites; Vargas 2003; Whitaker 2003; World Social Forum Website
 Patomäki, H., & Teivainen, T. (2004). The World Social Forum: An Open Space or a Movement of Movements? Theory, Culture & Society, 21(6), 145–154. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276404047421
 Boaventura de Sousa Santos ‘The World Social Forum and the Global Left’ (2007) PL 4
 Boaventura De Souse Santos, The Rise of the Global Left (first published 2006, Zed Books Ltd 2006) 37
 Ibid.: 38
 Chico Whitaker is the Brazilian Justice and Peace Commission representative to the WSF Organisation Committee and International Secretariat. Mr Whitaker’s new book, The World Social Forum Challenge, is published in Portuguese. He has written several articles, including “Notes about the World Social Forum”, which is available in English and French at the WSF website.
 Arundhati Roay
 Boaventura De Sousa Santos and Cesar A. Rodriguez-Garavito, Law and Globalization from Below, Cambridge Studies in Law and Society (2005) pp 44
 Jai Sen and Peter Waterman, World Social Forum Challenging Empires (2009) pp xxi
 Jai Sen and Peter Waterman, World Social Forum Challenging Empires (2009)
 Ibid.: 44
 Ibid.: 106
 Ibid.: xxi
 Boaventura De Souse Santos, The Rise of the Global Left (first published 2006, Zed Books Ltd 2006) pp 48
 Ibid. 49
 Ibid.: 58
 Owen Worth & Karen Buckley (2009) The World Social Forum: postmodern prince or court jester?, Third World Quarterly, Vol.30, No. 4, 2009, pp 654
 The Principles of the World Social Forum; Approved and Adopted in Sao Paulo, on April 9, 2001.
 Owen Worth & Karen Buckley (2009) The World Social Forum: postmodern prince or court jester?, Third World Quarterly, Vol.30, No. 4, 2009, pp 654
 Ibid.: 655
 The Principles of the World Social Forum; Approved and Adopted in Sao Paulo, on April 9, 2001.
 Boaventura De Sousa Santos, World Social Forum: Toward A Counter-Hegemonic Globalisation (PART I)
 Boaventura De Souse Santos, The Rise of the Global Left (first published 2006, Zed Books Ltd 2006) pp 86
 Williams F Fisher and Thomas Ponniah, ‘Another World is Possible’(2006)
 Boaventura De Souse Santos, The Rise of the Global Left (first published 2006, Zed Books Ltd 2006) pp 127
 Ibid.: 127
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