The WSF Mumbai Office and the Tao of Cultural Politics

One of the most acute and inspiring analysts of the WSF is Santos. In his works he has explained is take on the relevance of the WSF and its limitations. In a piece also published on Challenging Empires (?) he analysis the tensions and opposing forces that crisscross the WSF. His analysis of the WSF cleavages is very acute and yet hard to agree with. t is not only the cleavages to which Santos was referring to that concern my writing here but the inherent dualism and the outcomes of such analysis. 

Santos argument is suggestive: the abundance of cleavages within the WSF, with individual actors positioning themselves alternatively within one or the other or at the same in several of them, makes the ultimate polarisation impossible. I find this argument flawed for several reasons. First of all it is flawed according to its own principles: the polarisation does take place the moment the hierarchy of decisions to be dealt with is established. Lately the polarisation is taking place about what position to take with respect to supposedly sympathetic governments and their heads. And this happens within the WSF on a regular basis. Usually a call to realism and strategic pragmatism is made and followed (more or less) by those who feel that the conflict could generate the split of the WSF and therefore its demise (oh how much this should deserve analytical attention). 

There is one other, perhaps more fundamental, reason why i believe polarisation does take place within the WSF and produces the rather unsatisfying “strategic/pragmatic/realist” response. The reason being the urge to purify one’s territory and even one’s dream. A world with no violence a world with no mean people a happy paradise is a ludicrous idea, we all know. (rework)

Oppositional movements do produce bureaucratized offsprings: 68 produced the NGO movement, the lobbying and advocacy movements etc. seattle, prague, genoa produced the “realist/pragmatic/strategic” WSF. 

In my research in the WSF office I could see at work the outcomes of this “strategic” approach. Nothing was discussed that could generate a fracture in the WSF; power and authority were thrown on the table when things were reaching dangerous temperatures; profound issues and conflict were simply deemed unsuitable for a WSF discussion (religion, caste, party politics and political bargaining, corruption and moral issues of all sorts). The successful outcome of the WSF India was constructed on the attempt to build a strong political front: such success is hard to prove in the short term (and perhaps in the long as well). The open space therefore has been used ONLY as a “strategic” use to harness political strength.

In the WSF office conflict were exploding on a daily bases with firefighters running desperate to put them down and at the same time counting down the number of days till the end of the forced collaboration with people they despised. Volunteers, office associates, and sympathizers passing by the Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan (the WSF office building) were soon left sceptical about this new world that the WSF was claiming to be able to contribute to perhaps…

In repeated occasions, focused, informal, conversations over lunch office staff and volunteers confirmed that if that was the new world they’d rather stay in teh old. If those insane work schedules, work relations, stress and frustration due to utter incompetence and “opportunistic” lack of leadership (the moment a problem arose from all side hand would go up in the sky saying, there are no leaders here so no one is responsible – and for sure not me), etc. All this is documented in what follows. 

Here the material on the office


More: when an energetic action was needed to get things somehow going, the managerial approach was used. Repeated calls to efficiency, business models, strategy and models was made by the most unexpected actors. This applied not only to conflict “management” but to personnel “management”, office schedules and task “management” etc. The reactions to this general calls to management was obvious by so many office staff and volunteers: management is good then, in which case let me prefer a world where the managers are trained at the Harward Business School or at the Indian Institute of Management. These conversations were not at all uncommon and towards the end (certainly aggravated by the increasing stress due to the approaching D Day) were continuous and mixed to sneering, veiled insult, mocking (yeah yeah another world) etc. When the proposal made by the finance department to revert back to Windows in the whole office was made (finance always used windows) no one was surprised and few had the energy to argue that another world… 



what i aim at demonstrating is that opposition behaviour generates conditions for transformation. The next world could be investigated or imagined in the terms set by, among other but better than others, Willliam Gibson. In other words, if 68 generated the conditions for neoliberalism (Harvey, 2005), the knowledge/information revolution and its fundamental use in global uprising would be used “strategically” to re-establish both normality and a system of domination. If things don’t look very clear at present is perhaps only a question of lack of focused analysis.

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