World governance is currently characterised by the doctrine of participation, which calls on non-governmental actors to associate themselves with the adoption and implementation of international regulation. Generally speaking, the civil society organisations involved in these issues have responded favourably to the call in the past 20 years. However, openness is hardly a feature of international governance and many non-governmental organisations are now wary of public coordination forums. This no doubt explains the current impact of a process such as the World Social Forum. The project ongoing in the Forum is ambitious and differs from everything previously attempted at international level to coordinate civil society. By betting on broad participation by organisations with very different sizes, histories, modes of operation and origins, the Forum is working towards the emergence of a new transnational citizen culture. Participation is here the goal and non the means of governance.

Bio note Isabelle Biagiotti, who has a PhD in political science from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France, has been Editor of Courrier de la planète since 1995. She publishes regularly on issues of governance, international negotiations and civil society. She put together in 2001 an issue of Courrier de la planète on the first World Social Forum (“La société civile mondiale: la montée en puissance”), published with the support of the UNESCO MOST programme. Isabelle Biagiotti is a member of the European research network on Sustainable Trade (SUSTRA), based in Montpellier (France). E-mail : isabiagiotti@tiscali.fr


Participation has become one of the organisational principles displayed and reiterated by governance processes both on local and global levels. It has become central to innovative policy to ensure the participation of various actors, in a broad sense, and to create a network to inform, conceive, implement and assess public policies. This has been held like a universal truth by actors as different as the World Bank,1 the OECD,2 the European Union3 and the United Nations.

In fact, on a global level, the last decade has been characterised by the institutionalisation of consultation of non-state actors (from scientists through business to NGOs of all forms, sizes and purposes) (Charnovitz, 1997). This has legitimised their discourse and knowledge, and some of them have begun to discuss the emergence of international forms of democracy based on this form of representative delegation.

But the involvement of non-state actors, including, particularly, civil society movements has not been restricted to such institutional participation. It has also been expressed by mass mobilisation to counter and criticise the (mal)functioning of the formal decision forums: 80% of global civil society meetings in 2001-2002 were followed by immense street protests. This effect is a clear advance on the previous period when only 50% of the alternative summits were followed by demonstrations (Pianta, 2002, p. 374).

When, as in 1995, the transnational citizen networks block the discreet negotiations of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment they seem to demonstrate both the existence of a “world civil society” and its force as a counter-power (Kloby, 2003). From Seattle (1999) to Geneva (2001) and Gothenburg (2001), these movements have proved time after time their ability to mobilise in response to the most symbolic sites of world economic regulation, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the G8 or the European Council. But these giant demonstrations have also shown their limits. Blocking negotiations does not make it possible to go beyond denunciation; it also risks presentation as negative and nihilistic.

Being conscious of the limits of this form of political action, a number of transnational citizen movements have simultaneously engaged in a new type of participation, conceived neither in collaboration with nor as a response to inter-state processes, but in alternative discussion and governance forums. The idea was to show civil society’s ability not just to criticise existing governance processes, but to make alternative proposals and mobilise according to its own agenda.4

Since January 2001, the Social Forums have invited, each year, citizens from all over the world as well as their movements to meet at the same time as the World Economic Forum in Davos, which since 1980 has aspired to bring together the most influent economic leaders and politicians of the day. Thus, the Social Forums correspond to an underlying and multifaceted critique of the deliberative democracy that seeks to establish world governance. Specifically, they seem to stem from reaction against the participatory processes offered to global civil society by governments and intergovernmental agencies and to embody an alternative proposal. They thus exemplify an alternative reading of participatory doctrine in which representation is privileged over efficiency. The rebalancing is no doubt necessary but it will in turn bring up new issues of world governance.

The limits of participatory processes The second half of the 20th century was characterised by the multiplication of distinct forms of citizen movements, which were also increasingly present in national and international public discussions. The co-ordination of these movements in the 1980s around major issues –negotiating multilateral environmental agreements, campaigning for debt cancellation, controlling the WTO, etc. – has led observers to talk of the emergence of a new “world civil society” capable of taking part in international co-ordination processes on a range of issues and in a variety of forms.5 This ongoing process has shaken the state-centred perspective on international relations based on international law and Westphalian political practice (Teivainen, 2004).

The invention of participation The citizen movements’ first systematic entry point to the international stage was the UN system, which has from the outset involved them in its expertise, decisions and action.6 The number of NGOs recognised within the UN system, as in many other international forums, has subsequently increased rapidly as member states have pressed two demands: for social engineering in countries under structural adjustment and for checks and balances to guarantee the supply of global public goods (Steele, 2000 p. 285). In 1992, the Rio summit seemed to institutionalise the idea that policy decisions could no longer dispense with effective participation of the actors concerned with their own forms of representation. From that date on, civil society movements began to be invited to participate in the highest-level bodies of the UN7 and other international institutions such as the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO.

Integration into the circles of power aroused widespread hope that a world deliberative democracy founded on indirect citizen representation by non-governmental actors might gradually be established (Nanz & Steffeck, 2003). It also led to the prediction that a form of “network” government may emerge, whether simply to inform policy, in the best sense (Haas, 1992), or to supersede the state level entirely (Rosenau, 1995). Indeed, only network government, as a political form, seems able to overcome the inability both of the forceful hegemony of the world’s foremost power and of the multilateral system to meet all the needs of international regulation (Lerin & Tubiana, 2003).

Given their capacity to analyse, to mobilise and to implement projects, non-governmental actors are now recognised by states as partners in defining the international political agenda, the assessment of problems and the implementation of solutions. They have seen proof of recognition in their growing participation in various co-ordination processes: as recognised observers in international negotiations within the UN context, as marginal observers within the WTO, and also as respected critics in the definition of the policies of international financial institutions.8 A final stage in representing the complexity of interests seems to have been reached with the development of multi-actor co-ordination process, bringing together not only states and NGOs but also business (Biagiotti, forthcoming).

Shared disenchantment? By the last years of the 20th century, these processes seemed institutionalised. The series of major world conferences organised by the United Nations during the 1990s gave non-governmental actors an unprecedented platform, and generated the hope that world democracy might be achieved (Steele, 2000). Nevertheless, at the very same moment, circumvention strategies and critiques of these processes have emerged. States again question the legitimacy of the actors of world civil society, on the one hand by downgrading their participation in many discussions to mere consultation, on the other hand by resorting to forms of co-ordination that exclude them. The shift of trade negotiations from institutions with known rules and fixed decision processes, such as the WTO, to “clubs” such as the G8, or to bilateral negotiations, has largely reduced civil society’s capacity for deliberative protest.

At the same time, a growing number of political actors have begun to blame civil society for certain malfunctions in world government. Some delegations in the 1997 climate conference in the Hague emphasized the “counter-productive” role played by certain environmental NGOs, whose intransigence and “irreverence” had harmed the progress of negotiations. By rejecting a “bad agreement”, environmental activists had, according to this view, amplified the disagreements and uncertainties of states, and bore a share of responsibility for the conference failure. In 2000, various governmental delegations to the UN Economic and Social Council opted for a restriction of the number of accredited NGOs, arguing in particular from the rudeness of certain representatives of civil society (Steele, 2000). A further step was taken in 2002, during the G8 summit in Genoa, when demonstrators were presented as “barbarians” and “vandals”. There is of course nothing new in the criminalisation of social movements, but on an international level, in a time when the participation debate has become a constitutive element of the discursive matrix of global governance, it reveals a qualitative change. For almost two decades, the openness of international politics had been measured by the number of actors represented. The states gave a qualified welcome to growing numbers of development associations, environmentalists, human rights defenders, indigenous movements, unions and consumer associations. Until recently, they also called on multinationals to share the burden of financing and implementing projects. Today, a limit seems to have been reached with respect to this exponential participation. Growing numbers of states now tend to separate participatory spaces from the loci of decision-making.

The legitimacy trap The issue of non-governmental actors’ legitimacy, which underlies this shift, cannot easily be dismissed. In spite of the evolution in practices, the cooptation of actors, and participatory doctrine, the international sphere restricts recognition of legitimacy to states representing their peoples with a mandate derived from formal and codified procedures. Legitimacy based on “expertise”, as claimed by the alternative globalisation movement, cannot always stand up to the prerogatives asserted by states. Moreover, the analysis of experts’ legitimacy poses many questions. The visibility of large NGO networks, demonstrations and counter-summits may often seem deceptive.

First of all, it is difficult to deny that this mobilisation still represents only a minority of citizens, generally from developed societies, rather than globalisation of citizenship by transnational dynamics. As Maxime Haubert observes (2000, p. 59), “while the public sphere unquestionably extends increasingly beyond national borders, the number of really active participants remains small”. Furthermore, the question of their accountability remains unresolved. Indeed, it seems harder to address than in the case of transnational companies, which at least have certain internal and external forms of accountability. Some observers, such as Pierre-Jean? Roca (2001), propose to break the deadlock of the debate about legitimacy, “which is never given once and for all”, by focusing on current legitimising processes: the professionalisation of organisations, the production of meaning and alternative forms of representation. In this perspective, the NGOs owe their legitimacy less to their expertise than to their capacity to mediate between suffering populations and the arenas of political power.

It is important to remember all these different ways to access the international political arena in order to escape media over-simplifications about such movements. Presentations of them tend to oscillate between two different pitfalls: either they evoke world civil society as an undifferentiated moral authority supposed to be the guarantor of shared and universal interests, or they dismiss its substantial contribution and regard it as a pressure group – on the same basis as business, for example. These two images pass over the inherent richness of citizen movements. The view expressed in this article is that the World Social Forums (WSFs), by betting both on the emergence of common references and on the continuing diversity of forms of action, expression and mobilisation, undoubtedly constitute an answer to the two-fold criticism. The Forums – on all levels: world, regional, national, and even local – have given a new form of visibility to the critique of neo-liberal globalisation. They have given credibility to the idea that the groups participating in the WSFs share the same common values and represent, in a way, the people excluded from globalisation. The Forums thus work to give overall legitimacy to civil society, based not on its membership or state recognition of its expertise but on its capacity for self-organisation and intermediation. This strategy is as new as it is ambitious, and it is difficult to evaluate at the present stage.

Culture and counter-culture: efficiency and its critics The international coordination process presently faces two main criticisms. First, the participation of assorted actors is encouraged, but is not always fair. In reality, we seem to be still far away from establishing the oft-mentioned “partnership” between states and non-governmental actors.

Secondly, actors are consulted as experts and called upon to participate in implementation, but they have no say in choosing solutions. Thus, at best, they participate before and after the negotiations – however, the political decision rests with the states, which alone can claim representative legitimacy. This is not the place to take sides and demand that non-governmental actors be regarded as decision makers. As we have seen, their legitimacy, which would have to be evaluated for each organisation and each question case by case, is probably insufficient for such a task. The point is rather to emphasise the hiatus between 20 years of debate about global democratisation and its implementation.

The way participation is practiced on the international level certainly enhances the quality of expertise and policy transparency, but it does not endow policy with legitimacy (Scholte, 2000; Biagiotti, 2003). In fact, the legitimacy of international decisions is very weak, implementation is slow and unsatisfactory, and network governance struggles to become the trumpeted alternative to “superpower hegemony or multilateral production of the global public goods” (Lerin & Tubiana, 2003).

The charge of ineffectiveness Undoubtedly, these two pitfalls – the limits of effective participation in global governance and the weak legitimacy of the measures taken – combine to explain the spirit that presides over the creation and functioning of the WSFs. The objectives are to reinforce the legitimacy of civil society by providing it with a common and coherent culture – at the regional and global levels –, and thus to be able to denounce the inefficiency of existing coordination processes. The first, and no doubt most important, achievement of the Forum, as Teivo Teivanen emphasises, is its democratic project, which offers space for “encounters between different groups and activists” (Teivainen, 2004, p. 127).

This vision was clearly spelled out in the WSF Charter of Principles and has been defended many times thereafter. To participate, it is enough to accept the Charter, the sole ideological reference of which is a (fairly mild) critique of neo-liberalism (articles 1, 4 et 12). The fifteen articles that make up the Charter thus express the Forum’s international (articles 3 and 15) and universalistic ambitions (articles 5 and 10), and its wish to remain open to any other movement, whatever its size and importance (articles 7, 8, 9 and 11). It is from this pluralism that exchange and the dissemination of alternatives are supposed to follow (articles 13 and 14). The results should deepen Forum after Forum in a process that is both global and regional (article 2).

Yet, while debate, testimony, and discussion are the tools of the FSM, they should not lead to the elaboration of “one” unified counter-discourse. As article 6 highlights, “no one (…) will be authorized, on behalf of any of the editions of the Forum, to express positions claiming to be those of all its participants”. The objective is therefore to bring together as wide and as diverse a panel of participants as possible and to launch debate between them about their different experiences and opinions. It is not necessary that, in the end, they should agree on a final declaration, an action programme, or any other collective demonstration of their common identity. What is important is that all these participants, with their dissimilar nationalities, cultures, educational background, perspectives, and opinions, should have met each other. In the words of Chico Whitaker, one of the founders of the Forum, the aspiration is to create “a space” and not “a movement” (Whitaker, 2004, p. 111). What is at stake here is to create an agora of alternative globalisation movements instead of subordinating them to a predetermined joint programme. Movements will come and go from the Forums, but the space for discussions the latter offer will remain.

Cultural critiques of the debate However, this holistic, horizontal and participatory vision, which made the launching of the Forums possible, is far from unanimous. The exponential growth of the Forums’ audiences (16,000 participants in Porto Alegre in 2001 – but already 100,000 in 2003 – 75,000 in Mumbai in January 2004) has given increasing prominence to debate about their role, form, and internal governance (Klein, 2001; Teivainen, 2004). Loosely structured deliberative practice, which is the trade mark of the WSFs, as of their regional offshoots, is thus sometimes considered an obstacle, to be dispensed with or, at least, reformed.

The reasons advanced are various. Some claim that the explosion in the number of participants demands the creation of more formal and rigid institutional structures permitting actors to keep ongoing discussions under control and to capitalise their outcomes (Kloby, 2003). According to others, the openness of the Forum conflicts with its own objectives since it enables political actors, by the power of their multiple identities, to use the assembly for their own purposes (Klein, 2003). There is indeed a risk. At every Forum, politicians try to muscle in on the debates, pointing to their membership of or closeness to certain movements or to their local electoral mandates. Similarly, the slogan “another world is possible” was repeatedly used in recent election campaigns by the French Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (Communist Revolutionary League) – something that is incompatible with the spirit of the Charter. Widespread confusion, according to a third group of critics, constitutes a threat to the democratic practice of the Forum. Unregulated deliberative democracy as practiced has, in their view, a paradoxical outcome: only the most powerful organisations can make themselves heard. Firstly, because they alone have the reputation and the means to do so (Kloby, 2003). Among hundreds of workshops proposed during the Forums, participants are more likely to listen to those speakers they already have some knowledge of. Secondly, they claim that the Forum has not proved able to develop the tools required to ensure participation from the poorest organisations – which are unable to fund the trip, as African under-representation shows –, especially by failing to take adequate advantage of Internet facilities. The constitution in Mumbai of a radical social counter-forum – “Mumbai Resistance” – can obviously be considered in part an expression of these criticisms (although the Indian anti-forum derived mainly from internal politics opposing the Communist Marxist Leninist party to Maoist tendencies). The most radical movements, which are by their nature in the minority, perceive the Forum as “monopolising the alternative globalisation movement” (Dubois, 2004). This reaction is also an indication of the institutionalisation of the Forum – despite the desire to maintain it as a “space”.

At this stage it is worth considering more precisely the origin of all this criticism. It comes first, unsurprisingly, from external Forum observers – politicians, representatives of intergovernmental institution, researchers, journalists. Following Nikhil Anand (2004), we may assume that what they are criticising is a project they do not understand because it consistently refuses to fit into familiar “social movement” categories. The idea of a “social space for free expression” does not fit in the mental maps of politicians – who expect a programme –, institutional officials – who expect clear and intelligible demands –, or most researchers and journalists, who want an intelligible object or story. It may be useful to illustrate this by an exchange during the first Porto Alegre Forum between the author and a journalist from a major French daily newspaper, who asked: “But what do you do the whole day long?”. My sincere answer – “I listen and I discuss” – by no means reassured her.

The second set of critics is without question the more interesting because it involves movements represented in the Forum and is currently growing. It also constitutes “a source of considerable tension in the WSF.” (Anand, 2004, p. 142). It brings together on one side traditional social movements – unions, producers’ associations, etc. – and on the other side a number of Anglo-American? NGOs that criticise the lack of efficiency the WSF and call it a serious waste of energy. A third pole of criticism gathers, as we have already mentioned, the radical movements that are not found in the “consensual” debates of the WSF and endorse more aggressive criticism of liberal modes of regulation.

The first set of critics regret such meetings’ inability to produce more consensus, more common positions, and shared campaigns that could be taken over by the Forum itself, albeit at the cost of some simplification. In their view, the World Social Forum is also an inadequate medium for the reproduction on a global scale of their historical culture of association and consensus. The second strand of this critique comes from the NGOs – mainly Anglo-American? – that have most tightly integrated the culture of efficiency into their lobbying practices. They regret, as do the social movements, the Forum’s inability to speak for its participants. This is the sense of Naomi Klein’s concern when she denounces the opaqueness of the Forum and asks “who governs?” (Klein, 2001). No doubt this is the reason of the weak commitment of US civil society compared to its traditional presence in other non-governmental forums.

Culture as a political project This cultural basis of such criticism shows the deep nature of the World Social Forum project. In choosing to be a space of total deliberation, the WSF contributes to the creation of a common political culture, understood as the mutual adjustment of different political cultures by exchange, accommodation and debate. This project is indeed at once ambitious, given its difficulties, and important, given that the emergence of a new culture is uniformly regarded as the necessary basis of any deliberate democracy. Indeed, “only a shared collective identity is able to ensure societal cohesion, mutual trust and solidarity” (Nanz & Steffeck, 2003, p. 4), which are required to legitimate political decisions, whatever level they are taken at.

The WSF takes part in the emergence of this common political culture by positing the equality and representativity of every organisation that subscribes to the principles of deliberative democracy. The goal is not to create effective majorities but to build a network, to share experiences, and to produce a consensus. It is a process that refuses urgency and tries to avoid imposing priorities on smaller, weaker or less well integrated organisations. It is, finally, a process that refuses to restrict itself to the modes of debate favoured in the intergovernmental sphere: one language, English, and one semantic field, political economy. The WSFs are spaces where many languages are used and where references span the whole of social science and religious doctrines. The WSFs are not based on delegation, unlike other international institutions, but are places of empowerment.

The end rather than the means Assessment of the first attempts at deliberative democratisation of international governance processes clearly show their limits. Two pitfalls – fair representation and coordination efficiency – have been shown to be particularly universal. Even when the processes opened to a plurality of actors, the platform has always been grudgingly surrendered, and states have kept tight control over the selection of non-state participants, without ever renouncing full control over the final decision. The organisations that agreed to participate have sometimes felt used as pretexts or guarantees for political games played elsewhere. Since the legitimacy of citizen movements has no clear legal basis, it is extremely difficult to imagine any other modus operandi.

However, lack of equity has directly impacted the efficiency of the process. The positive effects that one is entitled to expect from participation – informed decision-makers, construction of a common vision of objectives and means, informed populations, committed actors and improved implementation – have been diminished by the poor quality of participation. The common opinion is that “Global governance regimes are remote from citizens and they are generally dominated by non-elected diplomats, bureaucrats and experts.” (Nanz & Steffeck, 2003, p.1). And it is without any doubt this feeling of dispossession that explains the multiplication of demonstrations and counter-summits – which sometimes block the formal process as well as alternative forums such as the World Social Forum.

Resonance more than obedience The limits of participation and of one-off opposition to formal governance processes have clearly fed into the approach of the WSF founders. The first Forum, in Porto Alegre in January 2001, presented itself as breaking with traditional forms of lobbying and demonstrating against policies. Under the slogan “another world is possible” it dealt, first of all, with testifying to existing alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation, experienced as the globalisation of a unilateral mode of development. Candido Grybowsky, one of the prominent members of the Brazilian Organising Committee, expressed the wish as early as 2001 that the Forum should “serve to amplify these alternatives, to make them known, to give them legitimacy”. In his view, the Forum should allow the various movements promoting such initiatives to get to know each other, to exchange their visions of the world, and to create contacts.9 From the beginning, the Social Forums have thus appeared as discussion arenas in which participation is not just a rule, but the ultimate goal of coordination.

We have seen that this modus operandi questions the traditional culture of the social movements and that the creation of a common culture is the underlying ambition of the process as a whole – not the abolition of capitalism, debt relief, or the suspension of negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in the WTO. For the choice of a process that is participatory, unconstrained and horizontal leads to an encounter between very different universes of political action and to debate and even disagreement. This leads to progressive transformation of participants’ culture, not because they abandon their initial culture but because they recognise and adopt others (Anand, 2004). This is possible, as Nikhil Anand explains, because the delegates can, in the context of the Forum, admit and claim their different identities. They can be efficient lobbyists, but also women, men, young or old. They can also – and at the same time – be peasants, oppressed minorities, or experts on the environment, micro-credit or popular education. They may talk and listen (Anand, 2004, p. 142-3). The Forum is thus a place where, as Hilary Wainwright puts it, “participants (…) are citizens, not delegates” (Wainwright, 2001, p. 72).

Given the professionalisation of advocacy and organisational specialisation in the 1980s, this is a unique experience for participants, which transcends their apprehension of social history (Anand, 2004, pp. 142-3). No other place exists where this plurality of identities can find expression and coherence. Sharing these experiences – along with all the debates and criticisms it can and must arouse – indirectly reinforces what is today the principal source of the power of the NGOs: the transnational networks. We know, following the work of Margareth Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, how much the emergence of the notion of transnational civil society is itself tied to the creation of networks based on a set of common values. Such networks operate very differently from traditional models of “diffusion”, which explained widespread subscription to liberal institutions and methods by the end of the 20th century. For the network model is fundamentally a cultural model “through which the preferences and identities of actors engaged in transnational society are sometimes mutually transformed through their interactions with each other” (Keck and Sikkink, 1998, p. 214).

The reinforcement of these networks is a major concern for non-government actors engaged in a transnational dynamic: according to Mario Pianta, more than 80% of world civil society meetings in 2002-02 were primarily designed to reinforce the networks among the organisations represented (Pianta, 2002, p. 375).10 And this functional objective – to increase their power to mobilise and to challenge – has a cultural result: the ways of thinking and of acting meet and tend to influence each other. Thus a lobbyist specialised in international trade negotiations becomes aware of the obstacles faced by grassroots development movements. A representative of an indigenous people absorbs the reasoning behind the demands of workers or consumers. The causal link between local and global – which so easy to understand and difficult to put in practice – is thus nourished and enriched.

Confusion as a tactic No doubt this outcome was expected as early as April 2001 when the Charter of Principles was drafted. The writings of Chico Whitaker show as much. But a range of reasons – practical, socio-historical and political – explain the procedural choice of the Forum.

The origins of the WSF were transnational and structurally extensive. The initiative came from a meeting between a collective of non-governmental Brazilian organisations and the French movement ATTAC, particularly in the person of the latter’s President, Bernard Cassen. The Forum was thus born Latin and received the legacy of the networking experience and mobilisation of Latin American and European movements – with all their diversity. This complex framework only increased in each subsequent Forum with the arrival of new kinds of movements and of social histories.11 This complexity is clearly, today, what makes the Forum different from all other forms of transnational coordination. This fundamental difference would be lost if the Forum surrendered to the forces which wish see it grow as a “movement” and not as a “space”. And this risk is clearly identified by the WSF organisers.

In addition, the Forum’s location in Porto Alegre – flagship city of the Brazilian Workers’ Party and of the participatory budget – has given it, naturally enough, the primary sponsorship of Brazilian civil society, which established itself, during the years of struggle against the dictatorship, in all its originality and diversity, by construçao. This modus operandi is based not on representation, delegation or voting, but on the development of a common vision through the widest possible debate (Teivainen, 2004). And even if this can seem lengthy, « opaque » (Klein, 2001), time-consuming and “media unfriendly”, it is nonetheless the main originality and the principal contribution of the WSF to the sketch of a common transnational citizen framework.

Over the past twenty years, states, the World Bank, an other powerful actors on the international scene, have sought to fragment the representativity of NGOs and other civil society movements. In particular, they have established an apparently rigid distinction between operational and advocacy NGOs. Yet, according to observers who have participated in such movements, such as Jordan and Van Tuijl (2000), “this approach is fundamentally invalid because all acts which create space for the weak and powerless are political acts. Even the smallest intervention by an NGO at a local level will affect local power relations.”. The perception of the “power of open, free, horizontal structures” (Whitaker, 2004, p. 112) was the basis for principle of free participation in the World Social Forum for all civil society structures, whatever their its origin, size or representativity – subject only, as noted, to subscription to the principles of the Forum Charter.

Finally, the refusal to transform the Forum space into a movement may also be seen as a deliberate tactic to protect the fragile ongoing process. Nikhil Anand notes that this messiness is inseparable from a shared feeling of all social movements – which, by their nature, represent a particular type of exclusion – that they have nothing to gain in being transparent to their opponents. The very strength of the Forum might thus lie in its incomprehensible and unpredictable character (Anand, 2004, p. 145).

Difference as a common denominator All WSF observers, especially the media, have remarked on the heterogeneous and “illegible” character of the Forum. It is customary to note that WSF actors just have two characteristics in common: being non-state actors devoid of commercial activity.12 The list of discrepancies is much longer. But even so, they claim commonality, reflecting the necessary exercise in “theoretical construction” characteristic of the creation of any transnational movement. As Lisa Jordan and Peter Van Tujil remark, “Theoretical discussions centred around community involvement, the poor, participation, the protection of natural resources and universal freedoms, tend to have a vague notion of homogeneous needs and desires among vastly different populations. (Jordan & Van Tuijl, 2000).

It is a fact that certain Forum actors are completely integrated within transnational policy networks, while others have very local representation and are ultimately, and paradoxically, not very interested in the construction of a common alternative globalisation culture. They differ in their paths into criticism of globalisation: economic, environmental, social, political rights, cultural or religious identity, feminism, etc. Some, like environmental or feminist movements, have long experience of transnational mobilisation, whereas others made their first steps in deterritorialised politics in Porto Alegre and later in Mumbai (Grybowsky and Whitaker, 2001). Each of these different components has had its own mobilization path on globalisation issues. International solidarity associations, environmental organisations and some consumer associations were the first to occupy the stage in the early 1990s. In Seattle, in 1999, they were joined by unions and social movements – Via Campesina, MST, etc.– for whom these topics were quite new. The organizing committee of the Porto Alegre World Social Forum was itself a synthesis of the various tendencies: it included an NGO co-ordination body, a large Brazilian NGO (IBASE), a union (UT), a social movement (MST), and the justice and peace commission of the Brazilian episcopate. The WSF actors make no mystery of their differences and fault lines. Nonetheless, they take part in full awareness and commitment in these annual meetings. Those who criticise the Forums’ lack of cohesion and ideological coherence should feel questioned by this commonly accepted reference, which is in itself one of the successes of the World Social Forum.

Taking account of the organic diversity of world civil society shakes certain presuppositions that which have certainly limited the state-led international coordination process. In the WSF, partnerships are to be established – they do not simply spring from mutual recognition. Fair representation is not mandated but rebuilt on each occasion, in full acceptance of contradiction. And this is possible because efficiency is not the goal of the WSF. It is an innovative deliberative process designed to contribute to the reinforcement of a community of culture within the emerging world civil society. Network economics shows that only such reinforcement can lead to effective self-regulation of world civil society (Keck & Sikkink, 1997; Dedeurwaerder, 2004). This culture and this self-regulation are the prerequisites of the creation of a political demos capable of effectively representing citizens in the international for a to which they are invited (Nanz & Steffeck, 2003). This analysis was been translated in political terms by Hilary Wainwright, in whose view the transnational civil society should be “grounded in what it makes our force: our local roots, our networking, our mobilisation capacity and our flexibility. And not by replicating non-liberal institutions.” (Wainwright, 2001, p. 72).

Conclusion The WSFs seem to have dealt with the challenge of internal fairness in the representation of non-governmental actors in the broad sense. By engaging in long-term work on the movement’s culture, the Forums highlight the limited legitimacy and democracy of existing international coordination. By supporting the emergence of a common culture, they contribute to the legitimacy of the whole range of alternatives to liberal globalisation (Anand, 2004; Whitaker, 2004). In this sense, they are building a new utopia of world citizenship self-consciously shared. This process, because it accepts differences and divergences, can only be lengthy and complex, and indeed difficult to grasp from outside. Nonetheless, it bears the potential for an emerging transitional consciousness that can cope with local as well as global challenges and also act as a checking power in the international arena.

Can the Forums, by their extensive participatory practice, take up the challenge of governance as laid down by states, i.e. the challenge of efficiency? Yes, so long as they continue to emphasise new methods over outcomes. They can, in other words, if they show their capacity to endow the movement with a common language and if they prove able to give a platform to movements excluded from the circles of power – those that suffer from disenfranchisement, as defined by Jessica Greene and Dana Fisher, whether because of their lack of endogenous resources or transnational connections or their weak geopolitical status (Greene & Fisher, 2004). Giving a strong and legitimate voice to those excluded from world governance would be already a considerable contribution to the efficiency of international coordination processes. The transnational movement can best prove its “efficiency” in, precisely, integrating advocacy and grassroots activism in a terrain that spans the local and the global (Jordan & Van Tuijl, 2000). Translated from French

Notes 1. The establishment of a ONG-World Bank joint committee dates back to 1982. NGOs are furthermore invited to annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF and also participate in the evaluation panel dealing with Bank projects. 2. The OECD has also had a Consultative Economic and Industrial Committee since 1962. NGOs were invited ten years ago to participate alongside companies and unions. They have a purely consultative role (cf. www.oecd.org (external link)). 3. Among interactions between NGOs and the European Union, the latest is the setting up of a consultative forum on the proposed European constitution. 4. Mario Pianta has pointed to the multiplication of summits organised by civil society itself since 1992. Furthermore, a new quantitative threshold seems to have been reached in 2001. Moreover, 40% of alternative events in 2001-02 were organised outside the framework of any intergovernmental meeting (Pinta, 2002), reaching 58% in 2003 (Pianta et Silva, 2003, p.389). 5. The relevance of the term “global civil society” is not really at issue here. It seems sufficient that the protagonists of these movements and their main public interlocutors label them in this way for usage of the term in this precise context to be appropriate. 6. Article 71 of the UN Charter provides that the Economic and Social Council of the UN may consult “relevant” NGOs “in their areas of competence”. 7. In 1999 alone, no fewer than 30 “informal dialogues” brought together NGOs and the UN Security Council (Steele, 2000). 8. Campaigns for debt reduction and reform of international financial institutions were among the main loci of integration of international organisations with different backgrounds into powerful and highly mobilised transnational networks. 9. It would be easy to list here the unlikely and unusual encounters – observed by the author or reported by others – during the different WSF between representatives of the movements that differ as to issues, goals and means. 10. According to the same source, fewer than 20% have sought the political confrontation advocated by the most virulent internal critics of the Forum (Pianta, 2002). 11. On this point, the reader should refer to the extensive literature on the influence of Indian social labour movements on the organisation and running of debates during the January 2004 WSF in Mumbai. 12. They correspond Jan Aart Scholte’s (2000) minimal definition of the notion of “global civil society”.

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