Abstract Alternative globalisation activists, who are opposed to cultural uniformity, promote respect for difference as one of their main values. In order to blend this appreciation of diversity with the various factions of the movement, activists have created a new ideal convergence model: the Social Forums. Three main characteristics apply: an inclusive atmosphere with respect for diversity, the organisation of “open spaces” and the non-deliberative nature of meetings. Though activists aim to live by these principles, the model remains no less ideal, because this way of acting it out expresses the values of alternative globalisation utopias and is impossible to recreate in real-world meetings, which as a result both of the behaviour of the parties involved and of structural limitations inherent to the model.

Rather than an organisation that encompasses all factions of the alternative globalisation movement, World Social Forums provide platforms for debate and flexible coordination allowing activists to work together in an environment respectful of differences. However, certain aspects of the expansion of these World Social Forums – their increasing size, the growing burden of their organisation, their institutionalisation or internal shortcomings in their democratic process – may pose a threat.

Bio note Geoffrey Pleyers is a junior researcher of the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research and a doctoral student at the CADIS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France) and at the Liège Pole for the Study of Developing Urban Societies (University of Liège, Belgium). His thesis deals with the alternative globalisation movement, on which he conducted research at the first four World Social Forums as well as in seven European and Latin American countries. The topics of his publications include alternative globalisation, youth activism and fair trade.

E-mail: geoffrey.pleyers@ulg.ac.be

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