We are living through a time of the rise of dramatically new politics. This especially includes the rise of civil politics at local, national, transnational, and global levels – the latter is sometimes referred to as the “global solidarity and justice movement” – as well as of new global networks among refugees, migrants, and religious groups.

One of the most prominent manifestations of world civil politics is the World Social Forum, set up in 2000-01, which held its first world meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001. In Porto Alegre 2001 and 2002, the emphasis in the Forum was on opposition to neo-liberal globalisation and on looking further into possible alternatives for a better world. In 2003, a new stage of the political process inaugurated the passage from reflection to a logic of specific alternative proposals for a world level political and economic system. In January 2004, in what was the first world meeting of the WSF held outside Brazil, in Mumbai, India, there has been something of a reversion to a position of opposition – now not only to economic globalisation but also to war, patriarchy, caste, and religious fundamentalism - but the process of critical reflection also intensified. And this trend was also reflected in the second European Social Forum, held just before the Mumbai Forum, in November 2003.

At one level, the goal of the third and fourth world editions of the WSF was therefore to think out the best ways of promoting values of justice, solidarity and democratic participation at the world level. Based on issue analysis and diagnosis, the WSF aims to encourage the formulation of alternative proposals and strategies to the “neo-liberal” orientation, to the “pensée unique” (singular or hegemonic thinking) “TINA” approach – “There Is No Alternative” – and to all forms of fundamentalism. If the neo-liberal and fundamentalist processes of “hegemonic thinking” are vehicles of integration for some, providing new means of enrichment for some specific sectors and significant groups within society, they also generate forms of intense exclusion, marginalising many political and social actors.

The dramatic growth in numbers attending the world event – from 25-30,000 people at the first one, to 50-60,000 at the second, to 100,000 at the third and between 100-150,000 at the fourth – attests to the relevance of the Forum to people all over the world. This size is one of the outcomes of the culture of politics professed by the Forum, of being an “open space”. But it is not numbers alone that count. This growth has also brought its own share of organisational and management challenges, both at the events themselves and also in the evolution of policy and strategy for the Forum as an idea, sometimes tending to overwhelm it.

The last two years have seen decisive developments. First, WSF3 is widely considered to be the point at which organisers, participants and observers began to seriously talk about how to practice alternatives to economic globalisation, and also to reflect on the extent to which the Forum is practising the principles it preaches. This continued at WSF4, held for the first time outside Brazil, in Mumbai, India. The actors of the Forum have clearly become aware of its own globalisation, as regional and issue-specific Forums mushroomed worldwide. But are the Forum’s current ruling bodies, structures, and processes appropriate and adequate to creatively organise a phenomenon that is growing exponentially and spreading globally, towards achieving its goals?

Second, WSF4 saw the public staging of major events in opposition to the Forum, challenging its legitimacy both in terms of opposition to economic globalisation and as an open space (these included the Mumbai Resistance: see www.mumbairesistance.org (external link)). Third, the Mumbai Forum was marked by mass participation (of sections such as Dalits (earlier referred to as “untouchables”) and Adivasis (“tribals”)) and by a far greater participation of women. But while commented on widely as being very significant and marking important changes in the life and nature of the Forum (Vera-Zavala, 2004), it remains an open question just how successfully the format of the Forum coped with either the challenges or these changes.

And fourth, the leadership of the WSF (the International Secretariat, the International Council) has taken certain important steps that would seem to be leading the Forum to moving from being a symbolic political actor – an arena – to a real one (Teivainen, 2004).

Despite naming itself the world “social” forum, the forum is a priori a political idea, and its founders and now leaders have also enunciated clearly a certain vocabulary, grammar, and culture of politics for its conduct. But is this culture of politics appropriate to this emerging phenomenon? And indeed, does the Forum reflect and manifest only one culture of politics?

Objectives of this project and issue With the above as a backdrop, this special issue of the International Social Science Journal is an outcome of a proposal made by the authors to the Editor of the journal as two individuals doing research into the dynamics of the Forum.1

The objective we set for ourselves, and for this special issue of the ISSJ, was to attempt a wide-ranging, critical, and insistently plural exploration of the idea and concept of “open space” as a political-cultural concept, by focusing on the World Social Forum and its self-defined culture(s) of politics, and through this, more generally to contribute to a deeper understanding of cultures of politics. In one sense, we have attempted here to make manifest what we understand to be the spirit and ideal of the Forum, as embodied in its own self-image of being an “open space”. Our objective has been to explore this idea in depth, in multiple dimensions.

A given culture of politics can be said to constitute a homogeneous unit, within which the components are interdependent and can be regarded as comprising a coherent whole. And interrogating the concept of cultures of politics also demands that we analyse questions of power and attempt an analysis of the cultures of powers, both within the unit and also in relation to the world within which it exists and to which it relates.

In these terms, the WSF therefore represents both an important experiment and something of a paradox. On the one hand, it offers a rich vision, one that is igniting the imaginations of peoples and organisations around the world: the concept of being an “open space” for the “incubation” of movements that can challenge empires and for the celebration of diversity and plurality.2 On the other, its authors have also codified their understanding of the culture of politics that they believe the Forum should manifest and stand for, as a singular statement (the Forum’s Charter of Principles), with quite demanding and singular rules (such as opposition to neo-liberal globalisation being a basic prerequisite for all those who wish to enter the open space).

The attendant questions are whether a global initiative such as the World Social Forum can presuppose and insist upon the existence of a unique vision, or whether in reality it is necessarily made up of a multiplicity of complementary and / or competing visions; whether this multiplicity is sustainable within and in relation to a single, “unique” larger idea; and also the extent to which the culture of politics determined for the internal dynamics of the initiative also applies, if at all, to the dynamics of its politics in relation to the larger world within which it exists – its “external” dynamics. The idea of a unique and single vision also seems to run dangerously close to the neo-liberal principle that lies behind TINA – but which is what the Forum otherwise says is everything that it opposes.( See the exploration of this idea in this issue, in the essay by Massimo De Angelis.) What then is the Forum’s culture of politics?

By its plurality, diversity and world dimension, the World Social Forum offers a complexity of political behaviours that make possible a rich and deep exploration of this subject:

  • by discerning and analysing a diversity of interpretations within and in relation to what is said to be a uniform whole,
  • by analysing a vision of the world whose elements are said to be in more or less major coherence among themselves,
  • by discerning and exploring great tendencies around which major social and political ideas cluster.

A full analysis of the political culture(s) of the World Social Forum also demands:

  • a deep understanding of political behaviour(s) manifested in the Forum and its bodies and activities,
  • an understanding of how the Forum’s culture(s) of politics is / are inscribed in and flow(s) from the larger social body of which the WSF is a part,
  • an exploration both of its internal and external culture(s) of politics.

In addition, we believed that a special issue like this could also be an occasion for contributors to examine the evolution of the culture of politics as a concept in the social sciences.

With all this in mind, the objective of this issue of the ISSJ has been to encourage debate on the World Social Forum in terms of culture(s) of politics, of questions of the nature of power, and of the question of whether a world initiative such as the WSF can and should have a homogeneous or heterogeneous culture of politics, internally and externally.

Beyond this, we have also hoped that the collection of essays in this issue would, when seen together, also permit us to gain insight not just into the World Social Forum but also more generically into other emerging civil initiatives at the world level, including the global justice and solidarity movement as a whole and also, indeed, also of significant other proposals such as for a world parliament.

A framework for discussion Towards the proposed exploration of open space, we suggested that it could be especially fruitful to focus discussion and analysis the following four broad areas:

  • exploring the concept of “cultures of politics”,
  • interrogating the WSF’s self-defined culture of politics : The concept of “open space”,
  • plurality and interdependence in world civil politics,
  • the geography of cyberspace.

Exploring the concept of “cultures of politics” From a theoretical point of view, we as editorial advisers to this issue felt that the exercise required that we first revisit and explore the concept of cultures of politics itself, in an introductory article in the context of this current world process. In addition, we felt that essays in this area should be free to open up and address various assumptions about the WSF related to the questions of legitimacy of civil society, of the nature of power, and the question of whether the WSF has a singular or plural political culture.

We accordingly suggested using the following minimal frame for this exploration.

By defining and discussing the actors Who are the political and social actors who make up this initiative, this movement? Where do they gain their legitimacy, what are their role(s) in the Forum, and what are their perceptions of this initiative?

We suggested that an analysis of the various types of actors who take part in it would make it possible to determine the elements that compose the political culture(s) of the WSF. In other words, is / are the “political culture(s) of the WSF” merely the sum of the various political cultures of the social and political movements that make it up? Or is the political culture of the WSF the result of another logic of interaction between these various actors? Does the political culture of the WSF depend on the actors who make it up, or is it independent? But – if independent – is it possible for the culture of a world process to be independent of the culture of the actors who make it up?

By critically examining the vocabulary defining the culture of the politics of the Forum When forming it, the founders of the Forum articulated clearly the vocabulary and grammar of the forum. As still stated in its Charter of Principles, the singular position of the World Social Forum was opposition to neo-liberal globalisation, and implicitly also to a politics of violence. Over time, and especially in the world context that emerged in the period immediately following its formation, this has informally also come to include opposition to war and militarism. This vocabulary has come to be dramatically further expanded now that the last world meeting was held in India, to also include opposition to caste, communalism, and patriarchy. After much debate at its meeting in Miami in June 2003, the International Council of the Forum itself approved this widened vocabulary for the next world meeting of the Forum (which then took place as scheduled in Mumbai in January 2004) – but the significant fact is that by doing so, it signalled the adoption of this much wider vocabulary.

In addition, the Forum’s then leadership made some important revisions in its Charter of Principles, from its original version (April 2001) to a revised and “finalised” version (June 2001), that symbolised what seem to be significant shifts in thinking and politics.3

How have these revisions, and this evolving vocabulary, been influencing the culture(s) of politics of the actually-existing WSF – and vice versa?

By defining the nature and the functions of the political culture of the WSF Focusing first on the “internal culture” of the World Social Forum, what lessons can be drawn from the Forum as an institution in world politics? Including, in particular, from the somewhat complex idea of the founders of the Forum declaring that it shall be a “not completely open space” (Whitaker, 2004)? What roles have this declaration, and this formulation, played in the unfolding of the Forum?

Secondly, what implications does the culture of politics that the Forum has defined for its internal dynamics have for the dynamics of its relations, and for the relations of its participants, with the world around it – and which, after all, it was set up to address?

Equally, the experience of the World Social Forum as a world process raises the question of the representation of world civil society. What lessons can be drawn in both these areas from the position of the WSF, as expressed by the International Council in June 2001, that it does not engage in representative politics and does not represent world civil society? And yet while it both seeks to encourage and enable power and influence at a world scale, allows only representatives of organisations to sit on its bodies on the argument that “individuals do not represent anyone”, and seeks legitimacy by having on its International Council only “representative” bodies?

In short, does the manner in which the Forum has chosen to conduct its politics resolve the problem of the legitimacy of intervention of civil society on the world scene and at regional, national and local levels? What are the functions of these new political culture(s), and can – and should – they become a model of political culture on a world scale? What are their potentials and limitations? How do they relate to terms and concepts such as “global governance”? And to what degree is the Forum, as a vehicle of the “civilisation of globalisation” (Kaldor, 2000) also tending to become a vehicle for the globalisation of certain values and therefore of a certain, and perhaps rather singular, civilisation – and therefore also of governance (Sen, 2002)?

One of the functions of a political culture is to disseminate political content through ways other than those offered by conventional politics. It would be interesting to highlight the different “ways” used or offered by the WSF (apart from the use of and existence in cyberspace, which is discussed separately). Which public is this political content intended for? International civil society alone, or does the WSF also try to reach its political and cultural messages to other groups of societies worldwide?

On the other hand, another function of a political culture is to generate new practices among the actors involved in such a process. The evolution of the WSF decision-making process through an historical perspective would constitute an interesting aspect to be examined.

The WSF is also becoming stricter on this count, with both WSF India and the WSF International Council deciding during 2003 that organisations wanting to be members of its decision-making bodies have to first submit their written declaration of adherence to the WSF Charter of Principles. But do we perhaps not need to ask what purposes this simultaneous widening vocabulary and growing conditionality serving? Are they helping to persuade more people in the world of the value of opposing empires, or of the legitimacy of the Forum – even as it declares itself to be non-representative? Is the space that the Forum has so far created for more democratic dialogue expanding as a result of such action and policies, or is it – somewhat ironically – getting progressively reduced? And beyond the taking of these positions by its leadership, just how effectively is the Forum confronting and contesting the empires it has sent itself up to oppose?

In short, aside from the questions of what the political culture(s) of the World Social Forum is / are, we also need to go further into the functions and roles of its culture(s).

Interrogating the WSF’s self-defined culture of politics : The concept of “open space” An open space for a meeting of minds The self-proclaimed culture of politics of the World Social Forum is that of an “open space”. In principle, the Forum is meant to be an “open space” for the free exchange of ideas amongst those critical of and / or concerned with neo-liberal globalisation and its impacts, all forms of fundamentalism and exclusion, and the social, economic, and political order more generally. This relatively undirected “open space” is one where people from a wide range of streams of thought and action can meet and interact, without feeling that they have to agree with the views of the organisers or that they have to subscribe to one or another’s ideas or prescriptions. The propositions and formulations that emerge from the Forum come out of this interaction, appear in the names of the participants and not of the World Social Forum, which itself takes no positions or “leadership” on any issues beyond what is given in its Charter of Principles (Whitaker, 2001, 2004).

There are many, however, who feel that that Forum, however well intentioned, is gradually becoming one huge talking shop, and at best a huge event made up of thousands of mini-events, competing for space and time.

These are issues and understandings that have to be addressed. What are the potentials – and limitations – of the “open, undirected space” that the World Social Forum is meant to be, and how can we achieve these? How can the “open space” that the Forum is meant to be more than simply a traditional market space?

How can the World Social Forum – the world meeting, as well as all the preparatory activities – best realise its potential of being an open space for a meeting of minds? How can it move beyond merely being a set of discrete events happening at the same time, towards a space where interaction transcends the traditional boundaries that otherwise so divide us all?

Boundaries and grey areas Aside from who is and is not welcome to use the space are also the important questions of position, the drawing of boundaries, and the tolerance of grey areas. The Charter of Principles (available online at http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/main.asp?id_menu=4&cd_language=2) (external link) makes clear that the World Social Forum is a space only for “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 planetary society centred on the human person.”.

By definition therefore, or certainly by implication – and it has been widely read this way – the Forum therefore in principle excludes anyone (any group, movement, or individual) that is not willing to declare itself / herself actually opposed to neo-liberalism.

This situation has now been greatly widened by the recent widening of the vocabulary of the issues that the Forum has elected to address, as discussed above – implying that all actors who wish to take part in the Forum are expected to have clear positions on all the issues defined by the Forum itself. In principle, this simultaneous widening and tightening has crucial implications for the political culture(s) of the Forum, present and emerging.

This situation requires asking two hard questions. The first is simple, and other a more complex cluster of questions. One, if the Forum is indeed restricted to only those who already have a clear and defined position (and now, simultaneously on several issues), then once again, how can this be considered to be “open”? What does “open” mean if the space is in fact open only to some and restricted and closed to others? Would we apply the same conditionality to freedom?

This is a deeply moral and ethical, and also political, question. It also has a strategic dimension, which is contained in the second cluster of questions. Can the struggle against neo-liberalism and fundamentalism be won only by those who have already taken committed positions against it? In this struggle, as in any other, is it not necessary, at the minimum, to engage with those who are less sure of their positions on the issue (which in this case as in many others is arguably the vast majority), and to try and win them over – as well as to listen to their arguments, to deepen one’s own analysis and strategy?

Centre and margin: The political geography of the Forum as open space The concept of an “open space” – compared by one of its authors to a “square”, a praça – suggests an undifferentiated space, with no structure, no mediation or control, no centre, and no margins; and no exclusions. But the World Social Forum is of course a part of the wider societies within which it is taking shape, and as such, is likely to reflect and manifest the structures that mediate all societies.

On the other hand, the Forum is also – as mentioned above – formally opposed to all exclusion and singularity, and to patriarchy, casteism, and communalism / religious fundamentalism; and is therefore by implication a vehicle and instrument for emancipation.

What therefore is the actual experience in and of the Forum, in terms of those who have been historically and structurally marginalised, oppressed, and excluded? Of women, minorities, indigenous peoples, Dalits and other sections of the oppressed, in terms of their struggle for equality and democracy? Is the Forum proving to be a vehicle for advancing their struggles? If so, how, and if not, why not, and in what ways?

And what does this experience tell us about the likely historical role of the Forum in these terms?

Centralism and self-organisation in the WSF One of the most notable features of the WSF is its so-called “self-organised” character, where hundreds and sometimes thousands of organisations (and individuals) organise the myriad individual events that give the Forum its richness. Many observers, and also its authors, have commented that no one organisation could ever dream of attracting such a wide range of actors, nor of organising such a wide range of activities, and that in many ways, the “self-organised” activities at the Forum overwhelm the more centrally organised activities (the opening and closing ceremonies, the big conferences).

But these processes of self-organisation and networking by participants in the World Social Forum process are therefore equally crucial in determining the ways in which autonomous actors participating in WSF processes develop internal relations among themselves, both in the real world and the virtual; in other words, the culture(s) of politics they establish amongst themselves.

This demands that we ask certain questions: what kinds of relations are emerging among members participating in the organisation and manifestation of the World Social Forum process as a whole? Are new other ways of working, and new modes of associating, emerging from these internal relations (such as through networking)? And how are these emerging social and political relations and modes influencing how these actors, separately and collectively, conduct their politics in relation to the wider world, and specifically in relation to neo-liberalism and fundamentalisms?

Second, this growing tendency however also contrasts with the tendencies towards centralism and consensus among actors that is so commonly used by organisers in decision-making processes and that is also true of the Forum. In other words, there would appear to be a sharp contrast between the tendencies to autonomous, self-organised behaviour exhibited by participants in a large process such as the Forum (“the behaviour of swarms”, as Escobar, 2004, puts it), which the organisers of the Forum profess to believe in, and the tendencies among organisers to somewhat centralised and opaque decision-making. This becomes especially relevant at a time when some actors in the Forum, at international as well as national levels, appear to be tending to respond to the pressures they are facing by becoming increasingly strict, if not actually themselves fundamentalist, about their politics (Sen, 2004b).

The Forum as self-styled “incubator” One of the self-descriptions of the Forum, by one of its authors, is that of being an “incubator” for movements (Whitaker, 2004) But another dimension where the Forum may also be said to be playing a similar role is that of having a long-term influence both on organisations and delegates taking part in successive editions of the Forum and, perhaps most especially, on the minds of younger participants, both at the Forum and at the accompanying Youth Forum or Youth Camp. The most powerful and enduring influences of this extraordinary cultural and political event could well materialise several years later on down the road rather than immediately, as a function of cumulative experience with the ideas and experiences both within the Forum and in the world at large.

Although this thesis has been put forward in terms of movements alone, it may in fact be very fruitful to also look at the specific role that the Forum is playing in the lives and future politics of younger participants, in different cultures and cross-culturally, and more generally on their contributions to the construction and experience of life and politics and of cultures of politics. Since the first Forum took place in January 2001, there is some reason to argue that the real and most powerful effects of the Forum may only now be coming to life – within the Forum and beyond.

Plurality and interdependence in world civil politics Singularity or multiplicity of the culture(s) of WSF politics Given the above, should one speak about several political culture(s) of the WSF, or of one dominant political culture influencing all the others (as is argued by some of the counter-events organized independently and outside of the WSF process)? Can one speak about one political culture of “alternative globalisation”? Or is there in reality a profusion of political subcultures that in turn structures the political and ideological debate in the WSF?

The cultural dependence or interdependence of the WSF In the WSF, does there exist an autonomous culture of politics independent of the culture of societies within which it develops? Do the standards and the values of the societies in which it is developing occupy a determining place in the motivations of the political actions of the participants in the WSF?

On the other hand, are the culture(s) of politics evolving in the Forum influencing the politics of its participants in any way?

Globalisation of the WSF Does the World Social Forum have a single “global” vision of the world and of its own evolution? Does it need to have a singular vision, in order to successfully develop as an initiative? Or is its vision necessarily the sum total of the various different visions of its participants? And is this changing over time? And does this possibility contradict its celebration of plurality and diversity, at a very deep level?

Addressing these questions requires an analysis of the globalisation and spread of the World Social Forum as a world initiative, of its manifestation in terms of its various regional, national and local variations; and in particular to examine the current critical phase through which it is passing because of the decision to hold its world meeting outside Brazil for the first time. The analysis could be carried out looking at things from the angle of geopolitics, which would make it possible to introduce a multi-field / disciplinary critical approach and to take a thorough look at the regional Forums and the impact and the repercussions of the WSF “locally”. Approaching the subject through geopolitics can also be a vehicle to explore concepts of national culture and of global political culture and their respective impacts on the Forum.

Finally, in terms of the culture of geopolitics that is being practised by the WSF: (i) has it introduced anything new into the existing vocabulary – or is it only using earlier established / existing vocabulary?; and (ii) in particular, how if at all, do the culture(s) of politics in and of the Forum relate to existing cultures of national and international politics, and are these existing cultures having any influence on the world process?

The geography of cyberspace At one level, although best known for being a real-world phenomenon, the WSF – and more generally the global solidarity and justice movement – are fundamentally dependent on the existence of (and progressive emergence of) new information and communication technologies, and at the moment, especially the web. Some observers indeed, argue that these initiatives directly reflect and manifest the web – and its cultures:

Although many have observed that the recent mass protests would have been impossible without the Internet, what has been overlooked is how the communication technology that facilitates these campaigns is shaping the movement in its own image. Thanks to the Net, mobilizations are able to unfold with sparse bureaucracy and minimal hierarchy; forced consensus and labored manifestoes are fading into the background, replaced instead by a culture of constant, loosely structured and sometimes compulsive information-swapping. What emerged on the streets of Seattle and Washington was an activist model that mirrors the organic, decentralized, interlinked pathways of the Internet – the Internet come to life. (Klein, 2000)

This is the case even if, as Peter Waterman argues, the World Social Forum tends to use the web rather than live it (Waterman, 2003).

Understanding the political culture of the WSF therefore necessarily requires an exploration of the ecology, politics; and culture of the geography of cyberspace.

The geography and ecology of cyberspace Looking at the history of the discovery of cyberspace, we could usefully look also at its open and hidden histories – and futures. On the one hand, who uses it? And perhaps we could also now ask: who inhabits it? and how do they use it and inhabit it? What are the social and economic power relations of cyberspace? How profound is the digital divide? Is there only one divide, and how does / do this / these fault line(s) relate to the geography of the real world(s)? And on the other hand, what is the present and evolving nature of the ownership and control of cyberspace, and how is this influencing its use and inhabitation?

The WSF and cyberspace How does (a phenomenon and initiative such as) the World Social Forum exist in relation to cyberspace? How, it at all, does the WSF manifest, mirror, or even create and extend cyberspace? How does the existence in or relationship with cyberspace influence the real-world politics and processes of the World Social Forum? Cyberspace, and modern information and communication technologies in general, are often said to be democratising power relations and culture, and to be encouraging the practice of open politics. What does the experience of the Forum have to tell us in this regard? Is cyberspace helping the Forum to become an open meeting of minds – or is it working in the opposite direction, of tending to make consumers of those who “take part” in it, and / or to build networks as caucuses within the overall space?

The real, the virtual, and the potential: time and space collapsed How related, or unrelated, are the real, virtual, and potential worlds in the WSF – and also more generally? Is the progressive development of information and communication technologies tending to deepen relations, or to create separate worlds? Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2004a, 2004b) argues powerfully that to understand the World Social Forum requires an understanding of the sociology of absences and of potentialities. What are the implications of these dynamics in cyberspace for the culture and politics of the World Social Forum?

Reflections on the project: glimpses of open spaces, glimpses of other worlds As researchers and as advisers to this special issue of the ISSJ, we believe we have been very privileged to put together the extraordinarily rich collection of essays that appear here. Individually and collectively, they not only deeply explore the concept of open space, in several directions and dimensions, but also open important conversations between each other. As a result, they greatly add to our understanding of the idea of open space, of the World Social Forum as a phenomenon, and of cultures of politics. We hope that readers will find that they agree with this assessment.

On the other hand however, it has also been instructive to note that the contributions we received largely focussed on only one or two of the themes we put forward, and as laid out above. In particular, the majority address and explore the second thematic area: interrogating the WSF’s self-defined culture of politics, the concept of “open space”.

At more than one level, this is of course entirely acceptable because this is, in one sense, what the overall theme of this issue is all about: explorations in open space, the World Social Forum and cultures of politics. Beyond this, the very fact of the emergence of this focus is of course itself a reflection and manifestation of real concentrations of concern and thought, at this point in time; it is not mere coincidence.

We are therefore happy to have been associated with compiling and editing this collection and bringing it to the notice of a wider world, and as a matter of course, we have re-designed and organised this issue around the essays received.

But even if this collection succeeds in illuminating the areas the various essays explore and giving us glimpses into the world around us, as we believe it does, the very fact of concentration also alerts us to the need for taking more conscious steps towards exploring other dimensions of the universe around us, some of which we have tried to sketch out in this introductory essay. Our sense – only greatly reinforced by the contributions to this issue – is that it is important to comprehensively understand the idea and reality of open space. But if so, then it is essential that we also explore more widely, and look at other worlds. We ourselves propose to continue working in these areas, and some of our contributors have already said that they too now plan to continue doing so. On their behalves also therefore, we warmly invite you to join us in this adventure!


  • We would like to extend our deep gratitude to John Crowley, Editor of the International Social Science Journal, for the generous manner in which he has received our ideas and proposals for this special issue, throughout. We also wish to extend our thanks to all the contributors to this issue, and also the authors of the essays that we could not, for one reason or another, accept for publication, not just for bearing with us through this project but for the brilliant insights that they have given all of us. It has been a very special privilege to work with them, and we look forward to future opportunities of doing so.

1. This essay is based on the Call for Papers prepared and issued in February 2004 for this special issue of the ISSJ. As a consequence, it remains more an attempt to pose questions than to develop a specific analysis. 2. For a discussion of this concept of “open space”, see Whitaker (2001); and on the idea of the “incubation” of movements, Whitaker (2004). For an analysis and critique of the concept as applied, see Sen (2004b). 3. See Sen (2004a) and, for a fuller discussion, Sen (2003b). For a comparison of the two Charters, see Sen (2003a). A full copy of the original WSF Charter is no longer available on the WSF website, but the text is available in Sen et al. (2004), 67-9.

References Escobar, A., 2004. Other worlds are (already) possible: self organisation, complexity, and post-capitalist cultures. In: Sen et al. (2004), 349-58. Kaldor, M., 2000. “Civilising” globalisation? The implications of the “Battle in Seattle”. Millennium, 29(1), 105-14. Klein, N., 2000. The vision thing. The Nation, July 10. Santos, B. de S., 2004a. The WSF: towards a counter-hegemonic globalisation (Part I). In: Sen et al. (2004), 235-45. Santos, B. de S., 2004b. The WSF: towards a counter-hegemonic globalisation (Part II). In: Sen et al. (2004), 336-43. Sen, J., 2002. Civilising globalisation? Or globalising civilisation? Some reflections towards civil governance and a conscious, critical globalisation. Paper presented at the Helsinki Conference 2002: Searching for Global Partnerships. Helsinki, Finland. December 2-4. Sen, J., 2003a. Two Charters Compared. (available online at http://www.choike.org/documentos/Two_charters_compared.pdf. (external link)) Sen, J., 2003b. A Tale of Two Charters (or: “Another Charter is (Im)Possible!”). (available online at http://www.choike.org/documentos/Two_Charters.pdf. (external link)) Sen, J., 2004a. A tale of two charters. In: Sen et al. (2004), 72-5. Sen, J., 2004b. How open? The Forum as logo, the Forum as religion. Scepticism of the intellect, optimism of the will. In: Sen et al. (2004), 210-27. Sen, J., Anand, A., Escobar, A. & Waterman, P. (eds), 2004. World Social Forum: Challenging Empires. New Delhi: The Viveka Foundation. Teivainen, T., 2004. The World Social Forum: arena or actor. In: Sen et al. (2004), 122-9. Vera-Zavala?, A., 2004. A Space of Freedom: the World Women’s Forum. January 29. (available online at http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-6-91-1693.jsp. (external link)) Waterman, P., 2003. Some propositions on cyberspace after capitalism. Presented at the Cyberspace Panel, Life after Capitalism Programme, World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil. January 23-28. (available online at http://www.zmag.org/lacsite.htm. (external link)) Whitaker F., 2004. The WSF as open space. In: Sen et al. (2004), 111-21.

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