Abstract We are living through a time of the rise of dramatically new politics, including civil politics, at local, national, transnational, and global levels, and new global networks among refugees, migrants, and religious groups. One of the most prominent manifestations of world civil politics is the World Social Forum, which held its first world meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001. Based on issue analysis and diagnosis, the Forum aims to encourage the formulation of alternative proposals and strategies to neo-liberal “pensée unique” and to all forms of fundamentalism. The dramatic growth in numbers attending the world event – from around 25,000 in 2001 to over 100,000 in 2004 – attests to the relevance of the Forum to people all over the world.

While it calls itself “Social”, the Forum is a fundamentally political idea and promotes a specific vocabulary, grammar, and culture of politics. We call for a wide-ranging, critical, and insistently plural exploration of the idea and concept of “open space” as a political-cultural concept, focusing on the Forum and its self-defined culture(s) of politics. In these terms, the Forum represents both an important experiment and something of a paradox. On the one hand, it offers a rich vision of an “open space” for movements that challenge empires and celebrate diversity and plurality. On the other hand, the open space is circumscribed by a specific conception of politics and a specific ideological orientation. Is multiplicity sustainable within and in relation to a single, “unique” larger idea? Can the culture of “open space” politics operate coherently both within the Forum and in its relations with the world it seeks to change?

Bio note Chloé Keraghel manages projects for the UNESCO Education Sector on HIV/AIDS prevention and on the synergies between formal and non-formal education. She previously worked on drugs and globalisation, specialising in the geopolitics of drugs in South Asia. She has attended each of the World Social Forums since 2002. She is currently affiliated to the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and co-writing a book on the World Social Forum.

E-mail : ckeraghel@no-log.org

Jai Sen, an architect and urban designer by training, is an independent researcher based in New Delhi, India. He was earlier a civil activist and campaigner on dwelling, labour, and rights-related issues in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and at national and international levels. He has attended the World Social Forums since 2002, and was a member of the WSF India Working Committee and its Co-ordination Team during 2002-3. He co-edited World Social Forum: Challenging Empires (2004); co-organised with Mukul Mangalik and Madhuresh Kumar the “Open Space Seminar Series” on the World Social Forum and cultures of politics at the University of Delhi (August-December 2003).

E-mail : jai.sen@vsnl.com

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