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Publication Detail
Unequal power relations in the governance of the World Social Forum process: an analysis of the practices of the Nairobi Forum
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    Rigon A
  • Publisher:
    National University of Ireland Maynooth
  • Publication date:
  • Journal:
    Interface: a journal for and about social movements
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Status:
  • Print ISSN:
  • Keywords:
    Social movements governance, anti-neoliberal movements, consensual methodologies, World Social Forum
Through an ethnographic account of the decision-making process of the World Social Forum (WSF) and its governance structures, specifically the International Council and the Local Organising Committee, the micro-politics of the alter-globalisation movements will be explored. Looking at the debates around whether the WSF should be an open arena or become an actor, the paradox of the “tyranny of structurelessness” will be presented. More accurately, this paper exposes the asymmetry between the values and the practices of the WSF process by analysing the role of “social movement entrepreneurs” and the complex constellations of conflicting interests. Theoretical claims of horizontal consensual and open decision-making are used to eliminate any democratic procedure, paving the way to highly unequal oppressive power relations that dominate the deliberative space of encounter between different movements. The paper questions the capacity of the World Social Forum to articulate alternatives to neoliberalism, and to present different and more democratic ways of doing politics. After having unmasked the oppressive power structures within a social movement claiming to fight against them, this paper advocates for moving beyond the WSF discursive dichotomy of “neoliberal/anti-neoliberal”, and calls for a Gramscian resistance to the hegemonic neoliberal discourse played through direct transformative engagement with the institutions of our society. This paper offers a detailed view inside the black box of decision-making processes within social movements contributing to the academic as well as the activists’ debate on their governance. This analysis is particularly relevant in the light of the global occupy and anti-austerity movements, which have been making similar claims to those of the WSF of being a leaderless initiative, without any political affiliation, and using consensual methodologies, thus facing some of the same shortcomings and challenges.
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