IDS working papers;275

Diversity and social opposition in the 21st century : the trajectory of the World Social Forum (2001-2005)

Published on 1 January 2007

This paper analyses the experience of the World Social Forum in its five initial
editions, from 2001 to 2005, all of them but one held in the Southern Brazilian
city of Porto Alegré. Two main objectives are addressed: firstly the paper offers a
profile of those in attendance at these events. Secondly, it discusses the permanent,
albeit not clearly explicit, tension surrounding the event from the beginning,
opposing those who would rather change it to a new political tool to promote
traditional goals of left-inspired traditions and those, on the contrary, who would
prefer to see the WSF as a new and innovative space for social diversity. The paper
consists of three sections. The first presents a descriptive characterisation of the
event under its five editions, specifically focusing on the profiles, activities and
structures created over time. It also discusses the importance of the ‘Charter of
Principles’ and how the ensuing so-called ‘methodology’ has entered the scene and
dominated the event. The second section describes the existing diversity that is a
trademark of the Forum, identifying the main networks that converge in this
process, the relations between diversity and collective identity, and the different
positions that oppose diversity and the political efficacy of the forums. The final
section focuses on the positions and conflicts in relation to the ‘methodology’, and
analytically explores the growing visibility of this dilemma and its potential divisive
nature; from those who advocate a more unified political action in the short run
vis-à-vis those who consider that the World Social Forum is not a political party,
but rather a space of diversity. It concludes by suggesting that this remarkable
experience is most probably on the verge of rupture, given the mounting tensions
created by these polarising perspectives.
Keywords: collection action, social movements, anti-globalisation movements,
World Social Forum

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