Emergence of a Planetary Self
- Dissertation: Alternative Futures of Globalisation. A Socio-Ecological Study of the World Social Forum Process. José María Ramos. May 2010
"In this thesis I examine two simultaneous formations, interlinked, which constitute a grassroots yet global response to planetary crisis: the World Social Forum Process (WSF(P)) and the development of an Alternative Globalisation Movement (AGM). Together they constitute both a ‘discourse of discourses’, from the academy and many other sources of knowledge, as well as a grassroots to institutional ‘movement of movements’ response.
The methodology I have chosen is action research, in which I have been actively engaged with and between actors, in their multiplicity (individuals, organisations, networks, etc), in the process and struggle to enact change. (I discuss my methodological journey in Chapter Three of this report). This has provided a window into a variety of projects and processes within both the overlapping constellations of the WSF(P) and AGM, and into what it means for ordinary people to respond to global challenges. Within this, I document my own journey, the journey of groups and organisations I have worked with, and larger processes and events beyond my immediate relations.
Scope and Focus of the Research
This research focused on the exploration of alternative futures of globalisation through the World Social Forum Process (WSF(P)). Taking as a basis the underlying problems associated with status quo globalisation identified by a wide consensus within the academic community (Applebaum, 2005; Held, 2000b), I decided to focus on the visions, or movements toward alternative globalisation that are considered viable and preferable. In addition, I wanted to focus on popular empowerment in constituting such alternative futures, and thus wanted to address the question of human agency.
The WSF, through its call ‘Another World is Possible’, brings together thousands of groups and millions of people committed to creating alternatives to neo-liberalism or ‘hegemonic globalisation’ (Santos, 2006, p. 6). Thus, the WSF became the object of study, within the larger inquiry of the grassroots development of alternative futures of globalisation. Yet over time the WSF as an object of study became more problematic, as it more and more morphed into a number of (sub)processes between gatherings (events), as opposed to discreet events that seemingly contain a process (such as open space). Finally, I modified the focus of the study from an ‘object of study’ to a ‘process’, reconceived as the ‘WSF as Process’, or WSF(P), and as an aspect of an Alternative Globalisation Movement (AGM), the latter which can be understood as the ‘telos’ or direction of the WSF(P), a much broader if not messier conception, yet more accurately reflecting my experience in the field as well as that of others (Santos, 2006, pp. 46-84, 99). In the next section I discuss how the WSF(P) and the AGM interrelate.
Some of the questions that have guided this study have concerned: 1) how the WSF(P) operates (organisational process and dynamics) in respect to enabling social change (see Chapter Four and Five), 2) the strategies, dynamics and processes by which individuals and collectivities through the WSF(P) work to create desired social changes (see Chapter Three, Four and Five), and 3) the alternative futures of globalisation articulated and / or embodied through the WSF(P) (see Chapter Two, Three, Four, Five and Six).
The World Social Forum
While groups had been laying the groundwork for it for almost a decade, the WSF as an event began in January 2001, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. In the tradition of counter-summits, it was a forum counter-positioned to the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF). It was held at the same time of year, but contrasted sharply with the WEF. Whereas at the WEF the global business elite came together to discuss how to further their corporate interests, the WSF was articulated as a place for those contesting corporate (neo-liberal) globalisation, as well as articulating and building alternatives to it, to come together. In response to the articulated inevitably of a neo-liberal future proclaimed by the pundits of corporate globalisation (Friedman, 1999; Fukuyama, 1989), the WSF’s slogan became ‘Another World is Possible’. (For more on counter-summits see Chapter Four).
By establishing an ‘open space’ methodology, in which those groups interested in holding a workshop at the WSF could do so, and anyone with an interest could attend, forums swelled with participants. The WSF began to bring together an ever-widening diversity of groups, from social movements, to INGOs, to networks, across a wide variety of themes. In response to the popularity of the forum, whose attendance seemingly grew exponentially, from 10,000 in 2001, to 50,000 in 2002, to 100,000 in 2003, a WSF charter emerged to give vision and clarity to what the forum aimed to be and to achieve (see the WSF Charter of Principles in Appendix A). WSFs have continued to grow in numbers and diversity. The last WSF was held in the Amazonian region in the city of Belem, Brazil, bringing together over 130,000 people and an estimated 20,000 Amazonian tribes people that spoke in defence of their native forests.
The WSF’s self articulation through the charter was part of the larger development of a WSF process (WSF(P)). The process aspect of the WSF can be understood as: 1) how the event process has globalised to various regions, 2) how the WSF methodology has evolved, 3) the emergence of hundreds of local / regional forums, 4) the WSF’s evolving systems of governance and decision-making, 5) how the WSF has converged with other actors and processes for local to global change, and finally, 6) the processes by which social forums facilitate relationships and collaborations between a myriad of diverse actors. (See Chapter Four for discussion of ‘forum as process’).
The WSF(P) is thus where popular empowerment, and the popular project(s) for global social change were investigated. The WSF(P) has embodied a grassroots-to-global response to emerging challenges faced by communities around the world. It is where people at the receiving end of global problems, or those advocating for the marginal or voiceless, have gathered and voiced their concerns, articulated alternative visions, and formulated strategies to achieve these visions. It has been a platform for communities, organisations, and social movements to come together to form shared agendas for change. It is where I have researched and studied the processes of peoples and communities empowering themselves and exercising their agency in addressing the planetary challenges they (and we) face.
‘Alternative globalisation’ is an umbrella term for what is still an emerging category of inquiry and action. It describes both Alternative Globalisation Discourses as well as an emerging Alternative Globalisation Movement (AGM) (which is the network and constellation of actors actively contesting and re-shaping globalisation). As discourses AG manifests as articulations and discourse formations that stem from the sphere of culture (media, academy, discussed in Chapter Two and Four) and as a movement AG manifests as actions, projects and social innovations that carry the intention of ‘world changing’ (which in French is literally the term used for this movement - alter-mondialiste, discussed in Chapter Four).
I therefore use ‘alternative globalisation’ as an umbrella term which incorporates many actors, discourses and processes, of world-changing / altermondialiste intent, of which the WSF(P) is a subset. It includes the development of a broad set of discourses calling for ‘another’, ‘different’ and ‘alternative’ globalisation, as well as the on the ground processes of people enacting social change. The term is ‘meta’ discursive, a way to enfold a diversity of actors and their discourses into a totality. This totality, however charted, measured, explored and imagined, is still developing. The multiplicity of actors and complexity of processes that are part of the WSF(P) challenge a narrow view of what an AGM is.
Alter-globalisation Movement (AGM)
The WSF(P) and the AGM should be seen in their contexts, part of a broader dynamic and co-creative process or dialectic, (explored in more depth in Chapter Four).
As seen in figure 1.1, the World Social Forum process and the movement for another / alternative globalisation are co-constructions. One can only be fully understood in terms of the other; the dialectic between the two is formative. On the one hand, the WSF emerged from various ‘sub-movements’ within the anti-globalisation movement, some of which had their origins in the new social movements of the 70’s and 80’s, (including movements for environmental, feminist, disability rights, sexual rights, international solidarity / human rights campaigns) and the Zapatista struggle and development of groups such as Peoples Global Action (PGA) (Gautney, 2010); others were based on post-colonial movements, against Western led development projects and older leftist struggles. Yet, on the other hand, the WSF as a process has facilitated the movement’s transition from critique (as anti-globalisation) to alternative (as ‘alternative globalisation’), by bringing together a new depth and breadth of actors calling for another and different globalisation. This rich and diverse convergence of actors working for a different globalisation has expanded and re-defined the parameters of what the AGM is against, as well as what it struggles for. The WSF(P) is therefore frame-breaking in terms of understanding what such a global ‘movement’ is, and what it stands for. The size and diversity of actors through the WSF(P) challenge us to widen our view of what AG means and how it works.
As well, the WSF(P) is not the only world-changing and globalisation-challenging process or effort, and thus can be looked at as part of a wider AG ‘constellation’ or process. By acknowledging the diversity within the WSF(P), as well as the diversity of thinking and other projects for global social change, we come to a fuller appreciation of what AG means today. The WSF(P) can be seen as a sub-process within an emerging ‘cosmocracy’ (Keane, 2005, pp. 34-51), the interlocking set of actor-agents that work on, build, contest and shape the discursive and practical spaces and places of the global.
As seen in figure 1.2, the WSF(P) and associated actors can be seen as part of a broader AGM. Such efforts and processes related to and overlapping with the WSF(P) include: the protest cycle (Seattle, Genoa, Melbourne, Hong Kong), networks (such as Peoples Global Action), alliances / coalitions (such as Civicus and Make Poverty History), UN sponsored events and processes (Rio ‘92 to Copenhagen ‘09), as well as projects like the Global Reporting Initiative, all which can be considered to be efforts at world-altering / altermondialiste.
Discourses for Another Globalisation
Besides those groups and organisations which are engaged in altering globalisation, a number of very important discourses have both prefigured the AGM, or have emerged along side it. In this sense those who have critiqued globalisation, and articulated some kind of alternative to what ever ‘it’ is, can be said to be within the development of alternative globalisation discourses. As can be inferred, articulations for alternative globalisation have preceded the actual term itself, as critiques of globalisation and formulations of alternatives go well into history (Galtung, 1971; Hughes, 1985; Wallerstein, 1983). As well, normative ‘utopian’ and ‘futures’ conceptions for the world as a totality have preceded both discourses on globalisation and discourses for alternatives to it (Hollis, 1998; Hughes, 1985; Jungk, 1969; Kumar, 1987; Manuel, 1979; Marcuse, 1970). Recent literature, however, is more explicit in articulating alternative globalisations from a number of perspectives, detailed in Chapter Two, where I discuss the alternative globalisation discourses that emerge from the WSF(P) in this study. These emerging / evolving discourses are more specific in indicating globalisation as the primary ontological and discursive space of contestation at the moment; they are contemporary manifestations of a perennial struggle for emancipation (as discussed by Holland (2006)). They lead us into a complex space of inquiry, as different theorists articulate different visions of ‘it’ as a totality from their respective epistemological dispositions. This diversity of discourses on AG helps to construct this emerging ‘meta’ domain of inquiry.
In this thesis, I use the metaphor of the ‘prism’ to explain this; a prism refracts light into its basic elements, revealing the spectrum within the most basic of phenomenon. Here, ‘prismatic’ refers to the characteristic of underlying diversity within apparent unity. The first challenge we are posed with is that alternative globalisation processes (both as movements and discourses) are prismatic in their organisational composition. While the underlying diversity to a movement / discourse / process is not a new phenomenon, and commentators remarked very early on over the alliance between ‘Teamsters and Turtles’ during the Battle of Seattle (Kaldor, 2000), and later through the Porto Alegre WSFs, I understand Alternative Globalisation, and the WSF(P) as a platform for AG, to be fundamentally prismatic in its composition. Therefore, there is no one discourse or perspective that can be offered to explain either AG or the WSF(P). I thus begin Chapter Two by examining nine important discourses for Alternative Globalisation.
I examine the WSF as a process and platform for alternative globalisation as an example of popular empowerment, what some describe as ‘globalization from below’ (Falk, 2004; Kaldor, 2000, p. 105). As to the direction and visions for such popular change, I use the distinction of ‘alternative futures of globalisation’ as a window into its futures, both as they are expressed through these discourses and as they are embodied in projects and practices (as projects and movements). The WSF(P) has helped to expand the vision and give clarity to the popular projects for empowerment and change. Through the WSF(P) we can begin to trace the expansion of an AGM, and visions for ‘Another Possible World’. And through this, we can speculate about alternative futures of globalisation that are embedded within this field of social processes."