In the 9 years since its inception the WSF has generated a wealth of academic debate and activists’ expectations, disillusionments, disappointments and calls to regroup. At the heart of the vision of organisers and participants is the design and construction of another world following the ideals declared in the Charter of Principles and by its world famous motto “Another World is Possible”.
The paper starts by discussing the relationship between the Global Justice Movement and the WSF showing historical and geographical but also ideological, political and strategic developments from the former to the latter and the following recursive articulations. Following I survey the intellectual and activist’s debates. I will show how those engagements with the WSF as an object of intellectual or political engagement (or indeed both) are polarised around opposite ideological and normative positions that eschew attempts to, on one hand, critically investigate the and, on the other, set realistic goals for the WSF.
I aim at answering a fundamental question on the influence that the WSF had, has or might potentially have in the future over larger processes of global social transformation. I will show how deterministic references to generating, singlehandedly, global change are misplaced in the case of the WSF and more in general to all social phenomena taken in isolation. I will, at the same time, show that the diametrical opposite is unfounded as well, that the WSF hasn’t had and couldn’t have any influence in generating change.
I will articulate an argument according to which the WSF does contribute in creating the necessary infrastructure for local to global social transformation. Fundamental projections of worth and expectations based on ideological convictions are profoundly shared by both academics and activists and are fundamental in understanding the nature of the debate i will review here and the stark oppositions in it represented.
I will conclude by saying that whether it is difficult to assess the ability past and potential of the WSF to generate social transformation at all level it engages it is nonetheless possible to draw tentative maps of influence that show the relationship between the WSF and national, transnational and regional civil societies. Those maps shall be able to mirror as closely as possible the galaxies of interdependence that the WSF in positioned within.
Further, by investigating the dynamics between civil and political societies it is possible to abstract the influence of the WSF at the mentioned levels.
The polarised nature of the debate on the WSF shows nature, limitations and potentialities not only of a circumscribed social and political phenomenon but also of the intellectual tools and academic disciplines deployed to make sense of social and political phenomena.
The extent to which this task is even manageable for the researchers with the tools at their disposal as developed in the social sciences will be object of some methodological reflections that add a note of moderate optimism.