Beyond the square: changing dynamics at the World Social Forum

A piece co-authored with my friend and colleague Teivo Teivainen. On how the recent wave of Occupations could add to their transformative practices some of the experiences developed over a decade and a half by activists in the World Social Forum.

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To WSF or not to WSF? Strategic Thinking for Change in the Global Justice Movement and the World Social Forum

The present piece follows a previous report submitted to the IC before the Casablanca meeting in December 2013. That paper focused on the larger areas of convergence observed in a series of interviews that I conducted in the period October to December of 2013 with 28 members and participants of the WSF IC1. Although the interviews were meant to elicit comments and reflections on the current state of the International Council and its possible evolution, all interviewees concentrated their considerations on larger, deeper, more compelling issues. These issues did not refer so much to the fate of an organisational body whose task was, when all was said and done, just to facilitate the work of the movements and organisations convening in the WSF. Instead, the WSF itself (and its development and changes), a much larger and meaningful process than the IC’s, was the one that truly carried the aspirations and visions of its organisers and participants. Continue reading

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The future of the World Social Forum and its International Council.

Report submitted to the Casablanca World Social Forum’s International Council meeting, December 2013


This is a preliminary report based on 28 in-depth interviews conducted within the framework of the working group and process of reflection on the future of the World Social Forum’s International Council (WSF-IC). I conducted 28 (twenty-eight) interviews in the period between the 4th of November and the 9th of December. The length of the interviews varies between 52 (fifty-two) and 152 (hundred and fifty-two) minutes. The amount of the material collected prevents a thorough analysis given the time allowed. However, although a great degree of nuance and diversity is inevitably lost in this short report, it is nonetheless possible to call attention to the following areas of convergence as highlighted in the interviews.

First, discussing the future of the IC would best be done in the context of a wider reflection on the future of the WSF as a whole. Second, a reflection on the congruence between activists’ aspirations, WSF’s visions and IC’s practices would help guide the conversations on the future of the IC and the WSF. Third, issues of democracy and decision-making practices were indicated as central to understand the tension between aspirations and achievements on the one hand and, on the other, to address the often unflattering perception by outsiders of the IC’s internal practices. Fourth, a self-reinforcing process seems to connect a) the real or perceived hiatus between WSF’s visions and IC’s practices, b) forms of democracy and decision-making performed, and c) activists’ disappointment and disengagement. Fifth, conducting the exercise of self-reflection of which this report is part can help to collectively negotiate a common way ahead for the WSF and for the IC, whichever form they may end up assuming once the process in under way. Sixth, to be truly transformative this exercise should be extended to activists from current social movements and civic and community-based organisations. Seventh, these new activists should not be considered as invited guests but as co-makers of the future of the WSF and of the IC. Continue reading

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Emotional Sequences in a Transnational Social Movement Organisation, the Case of the World Social Forum

Following the onset of the 2008 financial crisis, global justice movements themselves experienced the onset of an organisational and political crisis. The initial exhilaration due to the belief that times were ripe for radical change unravelled on account of the failure to take advantage of the opportunity to foster the change activists envisaged. I discuss this crisis from the vantage point of the International Council of the World Social Forum. I consider the way in which the crisis was negotiated and lessons learnt. The relationship between economic crises and protests is widely acknowledged. Indeed, the so-called first wave of the global justice movement of which the WSF is expression was linked to the 1997 Asian and the 2000 dot com crises. At the same time, the recurring cycles from exuberance to crisis in financial markets seem to affect the global justice movement as well. In social movement studies there is a substantial literature on cycles of contention and their structural and political, cultural, frames-related, social psychological and emotional aspects. To those debates this article contributes with a psychoanalytically informed approach.

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The emotional turn in anthropology and the social sciences.

A cognitive bias in the social sciences prevents us to fully appreciate the contribution of emotions to human (inter)subjectivity. Moreover, the so-called emotional turn in the social sciences has mostly been interested in the cognitive aspects of emotions. Alternative approaches to emotions are available and they rely on convincing neuroscience squarely posited against the cognitivist biases of experimental psychology. Emily Martin, in a recent article, however warns about the risks of the current infatuation  for affects in anthropology and the social sciences. I consider her arguments in the following notes on: Martin, Emily 2013. ‘The Potentiality of Ethnography and the Limits of Affect Theory.’ Current Anthropology online first, . Continue reading

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book out now!

transnational activism provides spaces to imagine and practice alternatives to neoliberal politics and its intoxicating cocktail of market deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation and state downsizing that punishes the world’s weakest people and the environment. this book maps recurring dynamics, visions and practices in transnational activist networks, in particular the world social forum. it also reflects on the alterglobalisation movement from the anti-wto protests in seattle at the end of 1999, from which the world social forum took shape, to the latest wave of protests and revolutions such as the arab spring, occupy wall street, the indignados.

this book is released under a creative commons licence and it is free. if you liked it, please feel free to buy us, its author and its publisher, a drink (or a meal if it changed your life or you won the lottery). we will consider your support an encouragement to continue experimenting more open and inclusive writing and publishing. this is one way in which you can contribute to our project (via to


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towards a new universality: the world social forum’s cosmopolitan vision

a version of this paper will appear in “asking, we walk: the south as new political imaginary.” vol. iv

the world social forum (wsf) is presently the world’s largest and most diverse transnational activist network. its global events in brazil, india, kenya, mali, pakistan, venezuela and senegal and its regional, national and local avatars have attracted hundreds of thousands of participants and thousands of organisations and social movements. the wsf is a complex structure of loosely articulated networks and organisations aiming at individually and collectively pursuing transformative actions towards a more just and equal world. it aims at inspiring joint actions capable of advancing global transformation. to fulfil this goal wsf’s participants seek to create spaces of dialogue in which actors with different backgrounds and outlooks on society and the future can share their visions and design collaborative practices. wsf’s methodology privileges mediation but does not eschew compromise, it privileges transformation but does not avoid contingent strategic thought, it is both utopian and strategic. arguably, the wsf’s most innovative contribution to global transformations is the articulation of emancipatory discourses and practices (both prefigurative and strategic) recursively engaging issues of identity, vision and methodology. such cultural politics of transformation is illustrated in this essay through wsf’s cosmopolitan project based on emancipatory identities, relational knowledges and practices of liberation.

towards a new universality the world social forum’s cosmopolitan vision

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