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Brazilian Political Science Review (Online)

On-line version ISSN 1981-3821

Braz. political sci. rev. (Online) vol.2 Rio de Janeiro Dec. 2007


Transnational Social Movements and the Globalization Agenda: a methodological approach based on the analysis of the World Social Forum*



Carlos R. S. Milani; Ruthy Nadia Laniado

Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), Brazil

Replicated from Brazilian Political Science Review (Online), Rio de Janeiro, v.1, n.2, July/Dec. 2007.




Globalization is not merely a competition for market shares and well-timed economic growth initiatives; neither is it just a matter of trade opportunities and liberalization. It has also evolved into a social and political struggle for imposing cultural values and individual preferences. Based on this broader context, this paper adopts the following assumption: transnational networks of social movements are the expression of a new social subject and have shifted their scale of political intervention since the 1990s in order to make their fight for social justice a politically pertinent action. Global social justice has become the motto of transnational social movements in world politics, where political decisions no longer rely exclusively on nation-states. In pursuance of developing this assumption, this paper approaches the discussion in two general parts: firstly, it presents a theoretical and methodological approach for analysing transnational social movements; secondly, it looks into the World Social Forum as one of their key political expressions.

Keywords: Globalisation; Transnational social movements; Political theory; World Social Forum.




Globalization is not merely a competition for market shares and well-timed economic growth initiatives; neither is it just a matter of trade opportunities and liberalization. Globalization has also evolved into a social and political struggle for imposing cultural values and individual preferences (Beck 2003, Dollfus 1997, Laïdi 1997, Santos et alii 1994). The current global economic system optimizes the values and criteria of performance, efficiency and productivity; nowadays, performance defines the new locus for the belonging of global subjects who ought to thrive on the accomplishment of short-term responsibilities at any cost. Being efficient and cultivating performance has become the new global avatar for the myth of progress and development; global performance provides a new sense of universality for national communities (Dupas 2001, Rist 1996). It goes without saying that such an over-estimation of economic performance, which in general one finds in the discourse of many global economic players, has direct implications for democratic life. According to this viewpoint, political negotiations must also follow the pattern of efficiency and, thus, fall into the market’s timetable; there should be no room for doubt and long deliberation in a global risk society.

This global economic shift has major consequences for the development of social movements. As Della Porta and Tarrow (2005) have asserted, two concurrent processes underpin globalization: the internationalization of politics through the emergence of transnational actors, networks, and institutions, and the economic integration produced by the dizzying growth of international trade, the media and financial integration. In this sense, globalization itself makes room for the expression of international contestation by creating opportunity structures and favourable circumstances for the acts of anti/alternative globalization movements. Thanks to its technological support system, globalization facilitates rapid and immediate intercommunication, which can hardly be under the strict control of the state. Moreover, globalization increases opportunities and, at the same time, (re)produces social and economic inequalities between and within countries.

In this context, the political mobilization of Brazilian social movements against the globalization process targets not only the capitalist principles of market liberalization, but also the negotiations of a trade agreement in the Americas. Likewise, after the demonstrations against economic globalization in Seattle, Prague, Nice and Genoa, and especially after the successive World Social Forums (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Mumbai and in many other cities around the world, the so-called alternative globalization movements have turned from a logic of reflection and debate into dynamics of resistance and contestation against the global political and economic status quo. The four World Social Forums, organized between 2001 and 2005 in Brazil, showed that transnational networks of social movements intended to go beyond mere street demonstrations and further discuss with other alter-globalist players possible alternatives in their fight for global social justice (Fougier 2002; Milani and Keraghel 2006). However, the growing expansion of transnational social movements also stems from the frustration of citizens complaining concomitantly about the democracy deficit at two levels: nationally and globally.1 These movements are particularly revealing in current world politics, where the classical clear-cut distinctions between domestic and foreign policies, high and low politics, hard and soft power, tend to vanish into thin air.

Taking into account this broader context of globalization and its different dimensions, along with the political opportunity structures that have emerged from wider world social mobilization (Della Porta and Tarrow 2005), this paper will focus on the second level of this democratic deficit. We adopt the following assumption: transnational networks of social movements are the expression of a new social subject and have shifted their scale of political intervention since the 1990s in order to make their fight for social justice a politically pertinent action. Global social justice has become the motto of transnational social movements in world politics, where political decisions no longer exclusively rely on nation-states. In pursuance of developing this assumption, we will approach the discussion in two general parts: firstly, we will present a theoretical and methodological approach for analysing transnational social movements; secondly, we will look into the World Social Forum as one of their key political expressions.


Analytical Categories of Collective Action in Transnational Social Movements

Alter-globalization protests in global cities since the events of Seattle have not been an isolated spontaneous series of events, but rather a conscious tactic of an increasingly coordinated and powerful social movement against economic and financial globalization that often targets international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Through these protests, and particularly by means of the series of forums organized since the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2001, transnational networks, coalitions and movements attempt to transform both domestic political systems and international politics: they create or stir up new issues for the international agenda, mobilize new constituencies, alter understandings of interests and identities, and sometimes change state practices (Khagram et al. 2002).

As we will further analyse in the first part of this article, there are, however, some questions that remain open: can transnational social movements be free from national constraints in building their discourses, strategies and power resources? Can the shift of scale (from local and national to global and transnational) also bring about a change of culture and identity to these movements as social subjects? Providing answers to these questions implies taking into consideration at least three orders of transformation that alter-globalization movements face nowadays: the redefinition of politics and the political field; the social subject in a world of transnational relations; and the search for convergences in the formation of transnational solidarities.


Redefining politics and the political field

In a globalizing economy, the state no longer has the same exclusive traditional role it used to have in international relations; non-state actors have gradually come to have an important say in global affairs. The political context within globalization represents unprecedented breaches in power equations among states, markets and civil societies. Globalization defines new modalities in the management of historical change (Dwivedi 2001; Therborn 2000; Touraine 2005). Along with the globalization phenomenon, there come not only a series of violations of national borders by flows of technology, economy, culture and information, but also several trespassing actions by non-state actors, be they infra-national political players or global networks and organizations. At the same time, transnational problems of major relevance to the system-wide functioning of the world (such as financial crises, cross-border environmental degradation, forced migration, drug trafficking, the spread of genetically-modified organisms, civic alliances for human rights etc) transcend the responsibility of the single monolithic nation-state and represent a major challenge that can hardly be dealt with solely within the framework of intergovernmental relations.

As a result, there is a profound redefinition of the political field, both in the configuration of its context and in the way politics evolves as experience, method and practice (the action). It is no longer possible to understand the political field simply as a discrete set of governing institutions and policies, including states, multinational corporations, international agreements and intergovernmental organizations, whereas politics does not happen exclusively where those subjects who possess power to rule over others are located (Osterweil 2004). As John Rawls reminds us (2002), there is a need to conceive politics in a sociological and descriptive sense; the political can be opposed to the non-political, as the public can be confronted with the private. In the political field, the principle of the individual’s basic liberties is under threat; political relationships mostly concern non-elected and mandatory human gatherings where institutions exercise domination and coercion over subjects from birth to death. In the Rawlsian sense, the political field requires principles of justice and calls for fundamental rules for monitoring social relationships. Therefore, it differs from the associative and voluntary sector, from family and personal ties, which are fields of sensitivity and affection in a sense that is totally alien to politics. This does not imply, of course, an absolute separation between the political and the non-political fields; however, it is in the political field that there are what Rawls calls, based on David Hume, the " circumstances of justice" , which require the application of a " political conception of justice" (Rawls 2002).

This conception of the political field allows us to avoid over-estimating contexts when analysing the actions of political subjects; however, it also entails an awareness of politics where agents and their strategies are also informed by contextual structures, actors, processes and values. In terms of structures, the political field bears the marks of profound tensions between fluidity and rigidity, between the horizontality of transnational flows and the institutionalized hierarchies of (inter) governmentality, between relationships of solidarity of a stateless character and relationships of citizenship as synonymous with nationality, and between shared beliefs and legal norms of public international law. At the heart of such tensions lie the crises of traditional representative democracy and the loss of the Prince’s monopoly in the production of public goods. Because the nation-state and international bureaucracies more and more lack political legitimacy in the management of world affairs, citizens do not accept the absolute transfer of sovereignty in decision-making to their representatives. They pose questions related to who governs and how, and on behalf of whom; this means that rooted in an ideal of social justice, citizens question the legitimacy of decisions made within the framework of contemporary representative democracy also at the global level. As a result of a protracted process that began with the failure of authorities to fulfil their commitments, citizens no longer show exclusive loyalty to representative institutions.

Moreover, the spatial dimension of structures tends to change. Global social movements share the same transnational zone, use the same technological resources, and call into question the monopoly of the state in world politics; their strategies are virtually " de-territorialized" . This does not mean that they do not use a territory, but that they occupy a territorial continuum running from local to national, then to global, thus contributing to the emergence of a transnational social space (Ameraux 1999; Pries 2001). Their political identity is, therefore, located beyond the national border (this differs, for example, from the social movements of the nineteenth century) and can be explained by a triple shift in the structure of the political field: from the public to the private, from the national to the transnational, and from the nation-state to non-governmental actors. Consequently, concepts such as the public space and the public good become unfettered from their original meanings,2 and the notion of a public realm encompasses both state and society and draws the line, instead, between private and public interests. In this context, international arenas, such as the World Social Forum, are key meeting places of distinct forms of organizations; they are new political spaces where vertical and horizontal hierarchies meet, and where there is also a clash of political purposes.

Two other critical factors play a role in the redefinition of the structures of politics. Firstly, there is the local-global nexus that allows avoiding localism as a theory or an ideology that ignores the global dimension of struggles, the multilevel and multidimensional expressions of today’s social, political, environmental and economic issues. The agenda that favours the de-linking platform remains an ambiguous celebration of localism. As Dwivedi asserts (2001), two arguments may be advanced in support of the local-global nexus: the first is derived from the social movement theory, whose literature tends to view movements as actors but in the sense of networks, action-systems and cognitive spaces. It is important to point out that these movements span locally and globally, both geographically and politically: they may, at the same time, launch a local action, a national fight and a global struggle. Secondly, with this change of structures in the political field, the epistemic dimension, the power-knowledge nexus, is of crucial relevance: the struggle of transnational social movements is also about meanings and knowledge, not only material resources. One key challenge that these moving structures of the political field put forth is to take cognizance of knowledge claims and interests in the action of social movements beyond the purview of locality and materiality, because social movements are reflexive, and generate awareness of economic inequalities, social despoliation and environmental risks (Dollfus 1997; Dwivedi 2001; Khagram et al. 2002). One example is the case of human rights activists who mobilize shame and publicize international norm-breaking as a political strategy (Ameraux 1999).

The political field is also marked by the presence of a myriad of voices, shifting the way social transformations appear. There is a clear increase in the relevance of non-state actors who develop a new form of political engagement and new languages of politics. In the case of transnational environmental activists, for instance, they may create, strengthen, implement and monitor international norms; they may be sources of resistance under globalization that challenge the authority and practices of states and international institutions that shape the parameters for global governance. They herald the notion of a diffused political leadership deploying typical resources of soft power.3

Global social movements also act transnationally in order to generate domestic outcomes, but they mainly aim at changing practices and influencing ideas and norms in world politics. Some of them expect that the use of information, persuasion, and moral pressure should contribute to changes in international institutions and mechanisms of global governance. Others deploy and engage competing justifications as a political process, becoming true moral entrepreneurs in instigating campaigns around particular issues. The Narmada Movement in India, for example, as a coalition of local, national and international non-state organizations has been able to reform and even stall the construction of a set of huge dams along the Narmada River; huge dams are no longer a symbol of development and modernity and are now considered to be controversial and unsustainable infrastructure projects (Khagram et al. 2002; Roy 2003).4

WSF members demand the radicalization of democracy on a world scale and fight for increased political participation in the formation of public opinions, as well as in the decision-making process. This request for increased political participation by alter-globalists is related to the present crisis in multilateralism: the USA’s unilateralism and partiality to the rules of the international system are making a decisive contribution to calling the idea of international community into question. Through this claim, transnational social movements and networks can influence the process of democratization of the global order; in this sense, a social movement’s effectiveness in bringing about social change is linked to its ability to disrupt or threaten the order which is set up within the international system (Tarrow 1998). Transnational social movements may also profit from institutional breaches in order to create their political opportunity structures. The same way that the American superpower does not follow international rules, and implements its own unilateral decision in relation to Rio de Janeiro’s convention on biological diversity, the Kyoto protocol on climate change, or the invasion of Iraq, transnational social movements question and protest against international agencies on behalf of their ideal of global social justice.

As far as processes are concerned, it is true that global politics is nowadays characterized by a complex decision-making system where state and non-state actors intervene by means of their distinct power resources (formal representation, investments, finance, technological upgrade, information production, culture, symbols) from local to global levels. This de facto complexity can be opposed to a de jure simplicity of the formal rules of inter-governmentalism, which implies a re-discussion of the legitimacy of decisions taken within governmental spheres, but also, power distribution among those who govern and those who are governed, negotiation processes among groups of actors and stakeholders, as well as decentralization of key authorities and functions of those who are the central actors (mainly governments and international financial institutions). International Relations literature describes this phenomenon as complex multilateralism, heterarchic governance and multi-level structures of transnational governance (Badie 1995; Rosenau and Czempiel 1992; Smouts 1998; Young 1999). In political theory, the normative approach to a deliberative democracy would best correspond to the ideal of a public space where political actors are in an almost constant process of defining substantive rules and democratic procedures (Manin 1987, Habermas 1997).

These changes in the political field also bring new blood to the definition of democracy itself. If democracy is founded on the plurality of opinions, and this plurality depends, at the same time, on the plurality of values, it cannot survive in a society which is almost exclusively led by the economic market, where all goods (including the global commons) are reduced to their commodity value, and where all citizens are considered solely as consumers (Novaes 2003). This is the ethical dimension of politics wherein transnational social movements intervene, since they recall that the new individualism as an exclusive guiding tenet of international morals cannot solve the tension between the ethics of the market and the ethics of the common good. In the face of a growing process of atomizing political players and fragmenting political demands, the global market tends to consider that the idea of a democratic deliberation is excessively time-consuming, thus restricting the public space to an informational space where publicity and marketing play a leading role. In fact, the problem is that politics may succumb if the contemporary political field does not allow for a plurality of values. As Hannah Arendt points out (1995), politics is born when two men meet. Arendt’s vita activa is constituted by labour (as a biological process), work (as the unnaturalness of human existence) and action (as politics whose condition per quam is plurality). Politics as an intermediate space lies in human plurality and stems from the space between free human beings. It is essentially about relationship and action; it is about inter-personal relationships. For Arendt (1995), the constant invention of politics requires a world where men and women are able to think and act with the aim of creating something new.


The social subject in a world of transnational relations

In the study of the democracy deficit and unfulfilled social justice, it is necessary to consider the idea of the subject in the different variations of world democratic experiences. Over the past few decades, studies on social movements have favoured a continuous aggiornamento of the idea that the subject is a bearer of will, identity (ies) and capabilities in relation to the different forms of contemporary collective action, which can be characterized as the entwining of subjectivity with individual integration in social systems. If, for a long period of time, the idea of social class was predominant, underrating individuality and culture, it is possible to say that, nowadays, they structure the subject at individual and collective levels. The individual is constituted by multiple identities and cultural references (e.g. values, religion, ethnicity, gender) as much as he/she can occupy different positions in the social systems (e.g., worker, leader, politician, intellectual). This complex structuring of the actor and of the self unfolds a wide span of situations and opportunities in which the subject can take a critical or contestatory stand. He/she can develop a pattern of critical awareness and participative action that merge by means of the diverse opportunities of manifestation that exist for the worker, man/woman, minorities, ethnic and religious groups, regionalist movements, among so many other possible references available today (Touraine 1995).

When analyzing social movements, Touraine (1999) argues that, in the past few years, individuals have continuously moved towards modalities of more comprehensive movements, societal or global, supported by moral references and a militant consciousness of conflicts or issues of justice.5 Even though they are emerging in a local or national space, movements always extend themselves to a wider scope, likewise asserting an epochal context (e.g., feminism, pacifism, anti-nuclear, anti-apartheid, human rights, environmentalism etc). As we have asserted previously, politics today is different from the traditional forms that were dominant during a large part of the twentieth century, such as union or party politics, or even nationalist politics (Wallerstein 2004). Those forms were imprinted by objective relationships within the market and institutional power, overpowered by an instrumental logic that aimed at an imposed objectivity supported by the State and its bureaucratic apparatus. The crisis of politics and that of the subject in politics over the last few decades has caused the demise of the emancipation of the working class subject as a universal one.

It is now indispensable to perceive politics and the actor as an articulation between the objectivity required by the market or the bureaucratic State and a sense of community; between instrumental reason in a complex mass society and creeds (cultural, identity, religious beliefs) in their different forms of expression. Thus, it is necessary to perceive the actor as a subject capable of both having an opinion, a utopia, and of giving sense to participation and to confronting adversaries, opponents or oppressors. The latter are sometimes not only persons, but ideas and principles that are not confined to rigid ideological systems, as were the revolutionary ideologies that prevailed some time ago. As such, the relation between the subject and collective action today is pervaded by values and the idea of freedom, combining choice (individuality) and cultural/social heritage (collectivity), thus, establishing what Touraine (1999) calls a conflicting dialogue.

Therefore, by revolting against oppression (material or symbolic), the subject engages in a conflict against his/her opponent. By means of contestation and the identification of a common adversary, the individual seeks to echo his/her critical ideas and sentiments at the collective level, where his/her worldview merges with that of others, either because of similarities or differences. When standing for a collective goal within a social movement, the actor is not looking for a homogeneous or unitary rationality, as opposed to the arguments that supported the social class discourse, typical of the old left. There is not even a demand for centralized strategies or tactics for the different events, as has been proved by movements of national scope, such as those involved with land conflicts in Brazil, or of transnational scope, such as the Narmada Movement or Via Campesina. This implies that the idea of the subject itself, as argued in this paper, is not bound to the principle of a full domination of the actor by the system. The new approach in relation to the subject, and of the subject to itself, has widened the slogans or has promoted antagonistic dialogue situations, where economic categories, such as poverty and need, are transformed into political and moral categories plunged into convictions and values in the field of social justice; that is, they are no longer restricted to domination and economic exploitation tout court.

Transnational social movements fall into several modalities; what they have in common is that the actors move in a context where public life is less confined to the limits of normative formality, and collective action is more diffused and discontinued despite its power for contestation (Taylor 1994). The subject of collective action (participants from various countries) does not use a unique militant language or restrict himself/herself to a mono-causal centralized discourse. This is due to the fact that slogans and issues that quite often originate in the local sphere, extrapolate to the transnational one, asserting multiple and tolerant identities (Della Porta 2005). Social movements contemplate the idea of substantive freedom, which fulfils men and women objectively and subjectively as a social subject, and allows them to fight against deprivation and exclusion. It is possible to say that this struggle is not only against the monopoly of power and concentration of wealth — typical of advanced capitalism — but it intends to be a constructive fight directed towards changing worldviews. It aims at better interaction between ideas/culture (subjectivity by all means) and power/wealth; sometimes values and culture are privileged, such as in struggles in favour of human rights. Accordingly, the subject is, at the same time, a product of the social order, as well as the spokesperson of a critical view of this same order — that is to say, he/she is a bearer of a will to change. The social role and the identity of the movements expose critical aspects of capitalist domination and create opportunities to confront the power structure.

Social movements are made up of actors with a creative capacity and a desire to transform; thus, they contribute to the debate and the outlining of the virtuousness of social justice as the foundation of societies, as well as for transnational relationships and exchanges. Participant actors contribute to redeeming the value of freedom as a basic element of emancipation, demanding that this value and its associated factors not be understood as an abstract principle of emancipation, as prevailed in the formation of the modern political citizen. Freedom should now be couched in and supported by experience and recognition within the social context, combining individuality and collectivity, reason and subjectivity. The virtuousness of freedom is only acquired when it is possible to experience it according to the material, institutional, cultural and moral progress of society and its diversity, or as Fraser (2000) puts it, combining distribution and recognition.

The aim of contestatory transnational social movements, expressed by critical awareness, is not to search for simplified or excluding identities (either worker or woman); collective action promotes the development of the elements of solidarity that integrate actors, social conditions and movements (organizations), combining moral values and attitude direction. It is within the field of solidarities that affinities are recognized and conflicts are negotiated (internally and externally), embracing plurality, diversity and differentiation. It is due to the continuous dynamics between integration and conflict that direct political action becomes so present in transnational events, without the pre-condition of proposing political or institutionalized solutions.

Solidarity within contemporary social movements outlines the fields of production of contestation and confrontation related to distribution and recognition as mentioned above. It works as a structuring unity of strategies for changing situations and contexts. Therefore, it is not the way the concept was approached by classical sociology, which affirmed solidarity as the axis of cohesion for understanding society as a totality, based on social bonds of long durability, with a deterministic effect of the system over the actor. In the complex arrangements of transnational collective action, the new solidarities are continuously levelled by protest and the desire for changes; they produce social bonds of reciprocity of short durability as related to the fluid and transitory relationships established through networks and occasional events. Nevertheless, the new solidarities of the social movements give an impetus to the effective diffusion of meanings (values, identities, contestation) and definition of goals (to be there, to expose slogans, to demand participation), such as those that transnational movements have been capable of doing so far.


Convergences in the formation of transnational solidarities

One of the most relevant characters of transnational social movements is their heterogeneous composition and multiple identities structured in a fluid constitution that is made real as an open space (Wallerstein 2004). In analyzing these movements, it is possible to observe what we would like to call the structure of convergences, made up of the elements that allow us to explain the fluidity and diversity that make these movements a fact, and that display actions and actors in a continuous and renewable way within specific contexts. It is widely accepted that they have become the bearers of a unifying principle that summarizes social relationships at the micro and macro levels — that of social justice in a globalizing perspective. They articulate social consciousness and confrontation that emerge from injustice, inequalities and denied identities, produced at the local levels, and diffused transnationally. It is possible to say that the elements that propel convergences in the formation of these movements are structured and shaped according to some levels of materialization of collective action under a broad variety of specific practices. On one level, space, time, organization, information, visibility and diffused leadership, together with the exposure of multiple identities and a wide spectrum of symbolic elements, structure convergences in the formation of transnational movements. They are the backbone of these flexible forms of collective action. On the other level, we would say, they couch new forms of solidarity that, in a loose approach to the typology of Sahlins (1976), articulate aspects of general solidarity (timeless and not accountable for) and of balanced solidarity (occasional and accountable for). We will make a few considerations about each of these topics aiming at a methodological design for the support of the study of transnational social movements.

Efforts to organize a summit or a forum are based on the understanding that, as an open space, the encounter should not be associated with any particular country or minority; the hosting country is firstly a participant, a generous one, and will offer the guest-participants hospitality combined with general logistic support and security. However, the space element reaches far beyond this first step of putting together an enormous contingent of people. Space provides for convergences because it approaches participants by facilitating the mutual awareness of being part of a movement in the sense that it is " there" where it is possible to debate and advocate ideas directly, and to do so because they also have something to say to an external public. The space of encounter provided by transnational social movements approaches the voices of the militants as opposed to the gap that separates the citizen-voters from their political representative, or the latter from his/her own constituency. In the case of the Brazilian electoral system, for example, which scatters voting throughout a vast geographical region, the relationship between the constituency and its representative is almost non-existent, except for a minority which has access to the elected politician in a clear exchange of favours, typical of a rather clientelistic approach. Space is also the moment when action, individual or group action, is put into practice as a direct political action to the extent to which the effects, results and success (or their opposite) of that political moment can possibly be observed and evaluated in locus, irrespective of agreements or other arrangements for future action. Thus, collective action is not merely participating, but it is also doing so by " being there" , at the place where the associative logics (Pouligny 2001) materialize on a very large scale.

Time is another important element of convergences for transnational social movements. It can be explained according to two dimensions. Firstly, it is the extended time of the political and cultural goals of these movements that have the paramount issue of fighting for social justice, as well as for the more radical slogans of anti-capitalism and anti-neoliberalism. In this sense, time is a fluid dimension of concrete collective action, and is the non-measurable and non-immediate condition of expected consequences or results. Secondly, time is the very present moment (somewhere and measurable); it is precisely the " when" of communication and interaction in its immense variety; it is the face-to-face moment of direct politics, that is, when action and reaction are mutually perceived by those involved in individual or organized group participation. Basically, time and space are the first dimensions of locating transnational movements, making it possible to observe their structure, strategies and content. Symbolically, transnational events are referred to by the city and the year of their occurrence, just as in other worldwide organized encounters, such as the Olympic games — being somewhere and everywhere every time.

Organizations contribute to the formation of transnational movements because they are the basic condition for making participation collective and viable; they are the core resource of the convergences of individuals, ideas, proposals, tactics and action. They integrate the theoretical elements with the practical ones, and make it possible to transform individual convictions and motivations into collective ones. Thus, they permit one to approach different views on common issues of discontent or contestation related to social justice in any possible form (exclusion, discrimination, human rights, environmental degradation, status affirmation etc). They provide the capacity to produce the material and symbolic resources necessary for collective action, whether on a large or a small scale. It is in the organization that a social movement is capacitated, producing renewed values of heterarchic relationships, establishing dialogic propositions on specific issues, and diffusing (educating) values and ideas (be they cultural or ideas of identity) that connect the local with the national and transnational. In relation to collective action as approached in this paper, organizations are the very first moment and loci of legitimating the group in society (producing acceptance, consensus or multifaceted approaches). Thus, they organize the internal repertoires with the external, empowering actors, establishing connections, and integrating networks. Finally, they aspire to influence institutionalized meanings and norms, and to be included in institutionalized systems or non-institutionalized situations of political activities.

The intense degree of connectivity in contemporary collective action is no doubt favoured by the communication facilities provided by modern technology, such as the internet and others. Despite the digital divide among and within countries and regions, available technology covers, mutatis mutandis, most places on the global frontier. This accelerates information and intensifies conditions for debate, exchange and mobilization. Nonetheless, the most significant aspect of information, in relation to convergences, is the increase in the capacity to circulate ideas and to transform contents very quickly, thus favouring what Tarrow and McAdam (2005) call relational diffusion, and, consequently, a complex scale of coordinated mobilization and organization at the global level. Information has, we would say, a crucial role for convergences at two levels. On the intellectual one, it nurtures the capabilities for (de)constructing discourses and issues by capacitating knowledge, critical analysis and propositional attitudes. Further, it provides actors with the intellectual tools to create discernment about conflict, contention, dialogue and agreement, contributing to the reshaping of politics and the sense of being a political actor, as discussed above. It is possible to say that it contributes, together with experience and values, to the development of expert knowledge and to empowerment. On the practical level, information fosters purposive mobilization, integrating actors on different scales and providing substantive platforms for joining broader scenarios, as well as dealing with multiple organization fields (Agrikoliansky et al. 2005) and multiple political environments. That is to say, it expands political opportunities and strengthens the organizations themselves.

Transnational social movements are an open space as compared to conventional organizations or agencies; that is to say, they present a fluid structure and loose boundaries. Nonetheless, they concretely form a visible event. As an element of convergences, visibility is not merely part of the strategy of putting together so many issues, organizations, personalities, people and ideas. Visibility has to do with the assertion that the gathering has taken place, no matter how contentious the ideas, slogans or tactics that are advocated by so many different participants and militants together, providing strength to the movements. But most of all, as we see it, it has to do with legitimizing social movements as actors that cannot be ignored by governments and international agencies, those who do not dispute power and space because of being the dominant power. In this sense, visibility, through confrontation or dialogue, could, eventually, facilitate negotiation on issues that governments and agencies might consider relevant. Finally, visibility is important for convergences because it is strongly related to the content transmitted by information and messages, something which could be called a continuous process of attribution of similarity (Della Porta and Tarrow 2005). Actors that are present and active in the scenario send an explicit message to those who are concerned, however remote, with the same issues and values, bridging gaps with participants and connecting supporters in an extensive network of a wide range of convictions and interests.

Diffused leadership is an innovative resource for situating power in modernity and, within the argument of the structure of convergences, it has an important contribution in explaining the dynamics and mechanisms of power in the collective action focused here. We could retrace the democratization of leadership in the experience of the new social movements that have developed since the sixties, couched in values that confronted the democratic centralism of leftwing parties and unions, among other organizations, and the very tight hierarchies existing then between leaders and followers (Wallerstein 2004). Taking politics into one’s own hands has been a long thought-of ideal of radical politics and the critical left; not only as a potential condition for exercising power through free thought and dialogical criticism, but being capable of confronting, from within, one’s own organization or group. That is to say, diffused leadership is a by-product of a new sense of politics, which broadened the space for active and contestatory involvement as opposed to hierarchical and obedient politics in the tradition of republican representation as discussed above — thus increasing the social subject’s potential capacity of enacting. As a metaphor, it is possible to say that transnational social movements provide a stage for everyone through the World Social Forum, creating a transitory situation of public exposure and free speech. These, combined with an eclectic and varied scenario and the image of self-presentation (from style to attitudes), express politics within the field of identity and self-recognition; they also demean the role of leadership as a central figure and pervade the exclusive legitimacy of leading as such. In spite of the new configuration of politics, it is not possible to say that charisma, in the Weberian sense, is dead. Charismatic figures (such as Sub-Comandante Marcos of the Zapatista movement, or Arundhati Roy from India) and other constant characters in the transnational movements, exist; however, like the core structure of movements and the new structure of politics, they are fluid, less persistent, and they have a segmented influence on the movements and their participants.

Structures of convergences in transnational social movements are certainly imbued by identities in their multiple forms. The affirmation of identities represents an immense advance in the renewal of politics, not only because its focus pervades the constraints of the universal mono-identity of the political subject (the one inherited from the advances that resulted from bourgeois democracy in opposition to the society of privilege and idleness found in the Ancien Régime), but because it also brought about the understanding of the politics of recognition itself, as argued by Fraser (2000). Elements of identity are made up of values and symbolic elements that materialize in social relationships at all levels (religion, race, gender, class, nation, minorities etc) and reshape and/or reconstruct dialogue (Taylor 1994). They also condition the disposure of individuals and groups in a way that confronts traditional power structures and hegemonic positions that result in exclusion or despise the importance of difference and alterity. As discussed above, political pluralism in conventional politics has been based on a subject conceived, in political philosophy, as unique in form and content, dominated by reason and having the capacity to convert will into decision. The redemption of subjectivity has emancipated the plurality of the self (as opposed to the mere plurality of representation) and reintroduced it in all aspects of social life that conform to the subject’s identity. Identity is now no stranger to politics and collective action, for it provides the meaning and sense of belonging for individual action and its associative capacity to engage actors in commitments. It configures the social representation of individual status and exposes the actor’s position in society, both in the intimate sphere and in the public sphere (Taylor 1994). It is possible to say that identity enables the awareness of the actor’s over-determination by the system, on the one hand, and the actor’s reflexive condition influencing the system, on the other. This makes sense of participation in transnational collective movements that are connected by symbolic elements as well as of meaningful relationships among actors, wherever they may be, regardless of national, cultural and economic differences. Hence, participants from the North and South (peripheral or poor countries) recognize factors of connection that they share in the fields of cultural and political significance by means of relational diffusion (Tarrow and McAdam 2005); this creates a concerted movement towards the convergence of action and ideas. Identity, in these movements, does not require homogeneous or simplified values for mutual recognition; it allows for self-representation of its own making (Fraser 2000). As connected to the renewal of the political field, discussed above, multiple identities bridge and accommodate diversity and difference (Taylor 1994), pursuing a continuous way of making sense of action and giving sense to the context (event) of its own occurrence. We could say that identity, in contemporary politics, concerning transnational social movements, is a field of collective social action production (on a small or large scale) in its own right, positioned in the paramount of moral and political values of global social justice.

The next aspect we would like to point out for a methodological study of the structure of convergences that emerges from the analysis of transnational social movements is that of symbolic elements. They are the language and comprehension themselves, merging social representation of social life, the evolution and emancipation of cultures, and the received, as well as constructed, social meanings for men and women. As a very complex worldview (extensively qualitative) of reality and portraying the complex data (extensively quantitative) of this same reality, the symbolic elements are a fundamental axis of analysis for comprehending contemporary collective action. They express how actors feel and act in their own way of approaching conflicting or converging views of social issues (made up of values, experiences, and objectivity), and are at the basis of contention. In fact, they are part of the intelligible structure of expressing politics, ideologies and action orientation, however spontaneous or objective the action may be. On the one hand, they materialize through signs (language or others), production (material or not), information and attitudes that are present in the act of participation (in all sectors of human life); they also materialize in received and produced knowledge, in interaction through communication (dialogue, debate, contention), in designed goals and in propositions (production, government and education, among others). On the other hand, symbolic elements are always the frame of an epochal content; they represent the issues (politics, wars, production, science, culture) that broadly mobilize society or sectors of it, fleshing out the factors that better represent the aspirations of a collectivity, which can be progressive or conservative. Transnational social movements are allegedly related to values that, by opposing the democratic deficit, injustice and neoliberalism, present a symbolism associated to a new stage of emancipation of the subject, that which stems from the understanding of global social justice. Is it possible to think of a new virtue for the understanding of liberty, equality and solidarity (fraternity)?

We assume that, at the global level, transnational social movements have revealed new forms of social solidarity. The transformation of the subject as an objective and subjective agent of his/her own world in a specific social context — within multiple identities, recognition and reflexivity between the actor and the social system — has re-qualified the meaning and the living experience of freedom and equality. Likewise, the sense of contemporary solidarity is not restricted to a unilinear qualification of the systems of reciprocity and social exchange. Of all the elements that contribute to the structuring of convergences, solidarity is probably the most complex character of social action and social relationship. Considering our approach to Sahlins’ typology (1976), we would say that the solidarity that emerges from the forms of transnational movements articulates aspects of reciprocity that produce commitments at two levels: that of general solidarity (timeless and not accountable for) and that of balanced solidarity (occasional and accountable for), entwining the elements of reciprocity on which solidarity stands: trust, cooperation and engagement.6

Solidarity, in transnational events, emerges from exchanges that are certainly non-symmetric; different nations, communities and organized groups take part in the World Social Forum moved by converging identities and goals as much as by a blind degree of trust. Despite the unequal conditions of the societies of origin, participants, militants and advocates can share common perceptions and can produce actions and projected goals related to the convictions that had mobilized them in the first place. The kind of trust that makes people act together on such a large scale is made possible on the same grounds as the motivations that make the structure of convergences materialize collective action. Trust underpins the conditions under which actors want to interact and accept interacting with others. In this sense, trust is a device for coping with the freedom of others (Gambetta, 1988) in order to experience beliefs (mutual or different) and to act accordingly (confrontation, dialogue, agreement, success or failure). People trust each other on the basis that they can express themselves freely, that their identity and claim for recognition will have room in the organized encounter. They trust the (broad) platform of the movement and give credit to the possibility, however remote, that they might influence others, governments and international agencies, because the scenario and the visibility guarantee the diffusion of their messages, values and symbolic elements. This is, in fact, the substantive matter of cooperation through exchanging information, constructing networks, connecting newcomers and relying on diffused leadership. It is a structuring condition that permits the World Social Forum to repeat itself for consecutive years since January 2001, making efforts to obtain some success through continuous cooperation of material and symbolic elements (the international committee, preparatory meetings, the Charter of Principles). Trust and cooperation provide the basis for the production of solidarities that are sustained by the commitment of actors to their values, common causes and the reciprocity produced within a transnational movement. In this case, solidarity is produced on more than one level.

Firstly, taking into account the organizing principle of a global social justice and its associated values, the solidarity produced through the process of promoting continuing events is of a general type; it is extended in time and it is not measurable because it concerns values and perceptions that form this type of collective action on different levels (from the local to the transnational). General solidarity presupposes long-term gains related to justice and freedom on a worldwide scale; these can change the understanding of governments, agencies, parliaments and many sectors of civil societies in relation to poverty and inequality, and to the rights to difference and recognition (the individual’s status in society), both among developed and non-developed countries, as well as within nations. Secondly, when the events take place as an associative force, it is possible to speak of a balanced type of solidarity, where reciprocal exchanges are produced within the boundaries of the action performed in each event. Here, cooperation and commitments are in line with momentary expectations and immediate consequences of a major transnational gathering. In this sense, balanced solidarity is produced within a framework of calculability (results, failures, stand-by situations) and in a specific period of time (the preparation, the event, the post-event).

When studying the structure of convergences concerning a systematic understanding of transnational movements, solidarity is a concept that pervades the core of the democratization of social opportunities and power transcribed by these events. It is an analytical support in order to explain, among other arguments, what makes transnational collective action, at the same time, a very fluid format and a concrete fact.


The World Social Forum: A Transient Space-movement or a New Social Subject?

Social movements and diverse protest organizations from all over the world have, since the 1990s, profited immensely in terms of framing their discourses and organizing their strategies for an alternative globalization. They have been able to gather together in order to demonstrate against the hegemonic economic globalization and its pensée unique at several meetings sponsored by multilateral institutions in charge of implementing neoliberal policies, identified as the main global economic players. Apart from this, they have also created their own political opportunity structures, particularly through the several events organized within the World Social Forum process.

Nevertheless, the WSF faces some key obstacles in remaining plural with its member organizations and movements and, at the same time, preserving its cohesion, centred on its Charter of Principles. One of the questions that remains unanswered so far is that of the sustainability of its political approach based on plurality of membership within an open space. The difficulty that the WSF experienced in January 2005, when a group of intellectuals and political leaders launched the " Porto Alegre Manifesto" as a counter-proposal to the Consensus of Washington, is an example of the constraints that this space-movement goes through when trying to avoid deliberation on unified and concrete declarations for an alternative globalization.7 Can the philosophy of an open space produce political results that are compatible with the logic of international and institutionalized political decision-making? Will this multiplicity of actors and opinions keep its membership in the long term, once concrete proposals are set out on the negotiating table, devoted to issues of an alternative globalization? Can the Forum be seen as a transient space-movement or as the emergence of a new social subject? We will attempt to shed some light onto these questions through two central axes of analysis: the WSF as a community of social practices facing the challenge of a new culture of politics and the dilemma of identity-building vis-à-vis its process of global expansion.


Community of social practices and the culture of politics

As a community of social practices and political process, the World Social Forum8 can be viewed as an integral part of a broader movement commonly referred to as the alter-globalist movement, one which fights for global social justice ideals. The term " alter-globalist" has replaced the original " anti-globalist" movement, thus marking, in 2002, a major and uneasy switch from the anti to the alter position. The roots of the movement lie in the 1990s with the emergence of the Zapatista movement in Mexico, which can be considered the first key insurrection against neoliberal globalization. The Zapatistas stated their rejection of neoliberalism and decided to focus the movement on the increase of international trade and private investment at the expense of local cultures. Action started in July 1996, when the Zapatistas held their first intercontinental meeting against neoliberalism, and called for the setting up of a network of resistance (Le Bot 2003).

Since the end of the 1990s, the protest movement has used mobilization in the form of counter-summits and assemblies in Seattle, Prague, and Nice as well as in the first counter-summit to the Davos World Economic Forum, which then led to the first World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre in January 2001. In 1999, Seattle was characterized by continuous demonstrations from November 30 to December 3, with the participation of some 350 organizations challenging the World Trade Organization (WTO) and, according to statements by alter-globalists, the liberal system of which it is a part. The Seattle demonstrations clearly expressed protests participating in a broader anti-neoliberal movement; they were not an isolated event, but a process that planned to strengthen the participation of civil society in the decision-making process at different political levels (Coburn 2003).

One question raised after the events in Seattle, and the others that followed, is that of the organization of protest as a key social practice in community-building. Social movement leaders formed the habit of getting together by holding strategic meetings to discuss the mobilization calendar and to link the networks of the North with those of the South. The importance of the International Forum on Globalization can be noted in this regard: this Forum has defined itself as an alliance of economists and activists9 whose main objective is to lead protests against the neoliberal economy. Discussions within alliances, such as this Forum, have centred on four main campaigns: writing off the debts of developing countries; reforming international financial institutions; taxing movements of capital; and creating new rules for world trade that award importance to sustainable development.

Each of these four issues is set within a broader framework of actions. Although the campaign, which is centred on the regulation of world trade, was initially less organized, the militants of the NGO Friends of the Earth, of Via Campesina and consumer associations turned to their advantage profited from the non-adoption of the Multilateral Investment Agreement (MIA) by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 1998, by publicizing their concerns regarding food security, genetically-modified organisms and environmental protection. Furthermore, these organizations started another kind of political combat by condemning the excessive protection awarded to the investments of multinational corporations through the clause on the expropriation of capital.10 It is true that these various organizations and social movements within the WSF quickly came up against the main difficulty of taking a position as a coherent joint force for proposals. Nevertheless, they themselves see their plurality as an advantage, thanks to the mingling of ideas and experiences in the setting-up of political alliances, and also with certain representatives of institutions and governments during international trade negotiations.11 The acceptance of different viewpoints and the negotiations that follow are part and parcel of their political culture as an open space-movement. Herein lies a profound change in the way culture and politics are perceived within the Forum. As Keraghel and Sen (2004) state, when it calls itself " social" , the Forum is fundamentally a political idea and promotes a specific vocabulary, grammar and culture of politics. The Forum represents an experiment of social practices aiming at a cultural change in the way politics is conceived and experienced. Also, focusing on a register that includes cultural values, subjective feelings and energy, the WSF may appear to be like a " jam session" , where politics can cope with uncertainty and not be constantly straining for formal harmony (Osterweil 2004; Wainwright 2004).

The Forum attempts to fight against cultural uniformity through an inclusive atmosphere with respect for diversity, but also through its organization as a forum of open-spaces and the non-deliberative nature of its meetings (Pleyers 2004). In this case, politics goes beyond formal rules, and also works through social norms, experiences, ideology and values. Politics and culture are clearly interdependent in the Forum’s organizational and working methods, which reminds us of the definition of a culture of politics that is embedded in the practices, relationships and processes that define social movements, their spaces and events. As Alvarez et al. (1998) remind us, " culture is political because meanings are constitutive of processes that, implicitly or explicitly, seek to redefine social power. That is, when movements deploy alternative conceptions of woman, nature, race, economy, democracy or citizenship which unsettle dominant cultural meanings, they enact a cultural politics" (Alvarez et al. 1998, 7).

Therefore, the multiplicity of speakers and actors, along with the diversity of sometimes contrasting objectives, has not prevented the emergence and the development of the several world forums. On the contrary, they have rendered a new epistemology of the South (Sousa Santos 2005) possible, which can be defined as a process and event that, through its very plurality and openness, attempts to produce ways of knowing that work against the monocultures of the mind and distance themselves from the traditional scientistic logics of Western modernity (Shiva 2003). Because their conception of political culture does not only result from the enunciation of words in a top-down perspective, social movements and organizations within the Forum have had to move beyond in defining their own horizontal methods of work and informal systems of knowledge production and exchange. This does not mean that the Charter of Principles is not a key guiding document for the WSF member organizations; however, the Forum’s culture of politics also draws considerably from its micro practices and organizational processes (Osterweil 2004). How meetings are run, the way the space is organized or how expertise and knowledge are distributed (the " how" ) are as central to the WSF as its debates on foreign debt relief, international migrations or contemporary forms of war (the " why" ).


Political pedagogy, identity-building and strategic global expansion

The Forum has, thus, become a place where several alter-globalist movements can express their own views on globalization; it is also seen as a political and cultural space, where civil society groups exchange ideas on social and economic alternatives to hegemonic globalization. The WSF has provided a suitable platform for reflection on the possible alternatives to the neoliberal globalization model and may be considered as a group of open areas for meetings, discussions and proposals or, as suggested by Fisher and Ponniah, " a pedagogical space enabling learning, networking, and political organization" (Fisher and Ponniah 2003).

The idea of a political pedagogy is at the heart of identity-building for WSF member organizations and is constantly challenged with the need to integrate new organizations and social movements, as well as to expand this space-movement to new geographies, as is seen in the recent development of multi-centric forums in Bamako, Caracas and Karachi. Nevertheless, although there is much convergence in struggles and discussions, diversity management in this network of networks (Rojo et alii 2004) or this agglomeration of anti-systemic movements (Wallerstein 2004) is still a challenge, as is the question of a consensus on projects for a socially just and an environmentally sustainable society. Learning by means of social practices throughout the process and avoiding a false consensus amidst such different movements and organizations is a political and cultural factor critical to the evolution of the WSF in its resistance to what they identify as the homogenizing forces of globalization.

There is no doubt that tension can be generated between the " reformist alter-globalists" (for example, the organizations that are part of the United Nations Economic and Social Council and that attended the Millennium Summit in May 2000) and the " radical anti-globalization movements" (be they internationalists or nationalists). This tension stems from a two-fold strategy, whose political result is not yet clearly defined within the WSF. Some will choose to negotiate with international agencies and attempt to change the world order through existing institutional breaches, while others will systematically oppose all agencies (from the United Nations Development Program [ UNDP] and the International Labor Organization [ ILO] to the World Bank and the IMF) since, in their eyes, they represent the neoliberal principles that underpin the global economic system.

The notion of identity-building serves the purpose of reaffirming something that WSF members have in common; it provides an answer to the question: as a WSF member, who am I socially? However, it also hides what makes these members so different. The political pedagogy is, in this context, a key feature, since it contributes on a regular basis to constructing the social representations of those who enter and leave this space-movement. Alter-globalists are also concerned with social representations of globalization: they know that the unequal structure of political participation in world affairs is a reflection of the inequalities in social forces and, therefore, are slowly trying to change this unequal structure in their favour by working on symbols and cultural values.

This political identity, as an affirmation of the self of the WSF, is not necessarily recognized by other global players (for instance, " the WSF fights for a world that is socially more just" ); nonetheless, some elements of this identity may be given to WSF members by other global players who invest them with patterns of an expected international behaviour (for example, " the WSF as a group of protesters who never make any concrete proposals" ). It is widely known from political theory that the affirmation of an identity, defined both by rules of belonging and particular features of a group or individual, is essential for the development of interest and passion (reason and subjectivity), the two main factors for any possibility of integration in political relationships (Wendt 1994). In other words, identity also plays the role of naming who is who in the " political game" . In order to build a common denominator around any issue, WSF members must confront one another with what they have in common (or not).

The process of critical reflection on its own identity has also intensified within the Forum. At the second European Social Forum held in Paris, Saint Denis, and Bobigny just before the WSF in Mumbai (India) in November 2003, the agenda favoured the refocusing of discussions on the strategies and identity of the alter-globalist movement. Changing from the anti to the alter position implied a need to seek alternatives in order to achieve a more human globalization, or another form of globalization. The second European Social Forum revealed the need for further analysis and discussion on the nature and identity of the movement itself as a sine qua non condition for the Forum as a space-movement to produce a better definition of political strategies and to seek possible alliances and paths for changing global society.

It is true that alter-globalist movements have gained political maturity and that the question of their identity is increasingly arising. Alter-globalists portray themselves as an emancipation movement aiming at uncovering the lies of neoliberalism and providing information and options on political issues of globalization. It is a movement in which cultural and social diversity is considered by militants to be a vital force in the way in which democracy is conceived and practiced. Even if the political orientations of the participants (both individuals and associations) diverge, their unity is based on the shared conviction that rights and social justice should outweigh profit and trade opportunities. Identity-building through a political pedagogy can, therefore, be found at the very heart of the alter-globalist movement. Deep-seated features of the WSF identity include, inter alia, avoiding unified statements, recognition of difference as a common denominator,12 defining itself as a space-movement in which distinct cultures meet politically, avoiding the emergence of a spokesperson for the movement, using confusion as a tactic, refusing urgency and working on a long-term basis (Biagiotti 2004). These features clearly contrast with those of the institutional stakeholders who are normally present in the field of international development cooperation.

Lastly, it is important to point out that the WSF and its social movements do not have a national territorial base for defining their strategies; in most cases they operate free from national sovereignty. Their field of action is a transnational area of projects, practices, symbols and utopias. Therefore, we can say that alter-globalists, as a new social subject, try, in their own way, to participate in the management of world affairs. Even if they also use a modern set of collective actions that are typical of the nineteenth century (street demonstrations, marches and petitions), transnational social movements have promoted at least three new strategies in order to guarantee their global visibility. Firstly, their actions must always be a happening, in the tradition of the 1968 movements, and the protest calendar must evolve as neoliberal plans spread; secondly, they make their actions a media event and include acts of civil disobedience; thirdly, they use second expert evaluations through reports, meetings and alternative media (Dufour 2005). Indeed, the media visibility of alter-globalist meetings has given these movements an opportunity to be known on a world scale, especially in the early days of their protests in 1999. As Susan George said at one of these meetings, referring to their direct opposition to the Davos Forum, the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF: " Wherever ‘They’ are, some of ‘Us’ will be also" (Fougier 2002). Seeking media coverage and visibility is also a key element in the process of identity-building for the alter-globalist movement.


Epilogue: Open Questions for Discussion

The World Social Forum is a relevant open space-movement precisely because it contrasts with the formalist, self-referred political system of representative democracy and traditional international relations. The social and political orders (national and international) of modern societies have been observed as balanced structures that have supposedly contemplated a predictable and universal material progress, and a class society based on interests and a general sense of citizenship. The new social movements, and later the transnational movements, question the democracy deficit and the ineffectiveness of international regulation in world politics, which have resulted from this received model of society. Globalization forces the emergence of the strong paradoxes of both contemporary democracy and asymmetric international relations. It uncovers the enormous cleavage between an idealized progress promised by liberal and Keynesian democracy (not to speak of socialist experiences) and the limited institutional capacity to guarantee freedom and to provide equality worldwide and within the principle of justice. Consequently, transnational social movements have played an important role, by exposing the disconnections between liberty, distribution and recognition.

The arguments stated above, as we see them, are a starting point for organizing and deepening the discussion on the new sense of politics and of the new individual and collective subjects that emerge from the repeated experiences of the World Social Forum. They allow us to sketch three levels of questioning concerning the following aspects:

(a) With respect to results and expectations, can the transnational social movements deliver concrete output and overcome the unpredictable development of their mobilizations, considering the strong capacity of the capitalist economy to overcome crises?

(b) With respect to their internal dynamics, can the transnational social movements guarantee their self-sustainability by being able to continuously convert convictions and beliefs into political energy, as well as visibility and exposure into political appeal?

(c) As to their relationship with institutional politics, can the transnational social movements, through the World Social Forum as an open space for contestation, build bridges and dialogues with the formal national and international political actors?



1 In the particular case of social movements in Europe, we should also integrate a regional (European) political scale, wherein networks forge their strategies and challenge regulations and decisions from Brussels.

2 In the case of radical environmentalist movements, for instance, collective actions signal conflicts and crises in the material and physical bases of life; as Dwivedi (2001) recalls, because these movements question the very basis of relationships between man, society, nature and the market, they may be defined both as public and political actions of protest, resistance and reconstruction around environmental alteration, degradation and destruction.

3 Some analysts think that they fall within the category of a global civil society, thus showing the development of a global citizenship. We do not agree with this viewpoint. See, for instance, Jan Aart Scholte (2000).

4 It is interesting to note that Khagram et al. (2002) develop a typology of transnational collective action and contentious politics: international NGOs (that coordinate their tactics through campaigns), transnational advocacy networks (that act mainly through information exchanges) and transnational social movements (that also organize joint mobilization).

5 The authors are aware of the fact that Touraine (2005) changes his viewpoint on the subject as a sociological category when he asserts that the subject is the opposite of identity and loses itself in intimacy (Touraine 2005, 167). He affirms that the idea of the self has gained considerable relevance, not leaving much room for the subject as he had previously analysed. The French sociologist approaches the category of self identity based on the writings of Anthony Giddens, although he points out two main differences in his analysis of the subject: firstly, Touraine defines the subject in his/her resistance to the impersonal world of consumerism, violence and war; secondly, the subject is never completely identified with him/herself, since he/she is located in the world of rights and duties, within the order of morality and not of experience.

6 The authors are aware of the analytical principles that support Sahlins’ theory of reciprocity, where bonds, obligations and generosity are essentially connected to the structure of the social order in primitive societies, an order with rooted traditions, hierarchies and assigned roles. The collective action under focus is, accordingly, the opposite model of social order: non-hierarchical, no boundaries, no obligations. However, the author’s typology is extremely rich for a contribution to the understanding of ‘modern bonds’ and values of the political culture made possible in the social systems of contemporary democracies, especially in the case of the Brazilian historical experience that we qualified as a " democratic deficit" (see Laniado, 2001).

7 Twelve proposals for another better world (including foreign debt relief programs, the taxation of international financial flows, the end of tax havens, a deep reform of the UN system etc) made up the Porto Alegre Manifesto. It was signed by nineteen intellectuals and political leaders, such as José Saramago, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Ignacio Ramonet, Emir Sader, Boaventra de Sousa Santos, Aminata Traoré (the only woman), Eduardo Galeano, Ricardo Petrella, Tariq Ali, Walden Bello and Immanuel Wallerstein. This Manifesto was seen as the result of a clash within the international committee of the Forum: making proposals on behalf of the Forum goes against the Charter of Principles, which says in its sixth point that the WSF is not a deliberative organization and that no-one can speak on its behalf. This Manifesto had not been discussed within the international committee before its launch.

8 This part of the paper draws mainly on Milani and Keraghel (2006).

9 The list includes, inter alia, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, Vandana Shiva of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, Walden Bello of the Focus on the Global South and Martin Khor of the Third World Network.

10 The MIA established that each party to the Agreement should treat the investors of other member-countries and their investments as favourably as its own investors and their investments (national treatment clause) or the investors and investments of third countries in similar circumstances (most- favoured nation clause). Each party to the Agreement would be obliged to guarantee the most favourable regime between the national treatment clause and the most-favoured nation clause. It is important to remark that these clauses are taken up in Articles 11, 1102 and 1103 of NAFTA. In both of these agreements, the notion of investment applies to goods and services, transactions and financial holdings (stocks, shares, options etc), to natural resources, to real estate, land and agricultural, and intellectual property. Laws requiring fair prior compensation exist in practically all countries in the case of the seizure of the property or holdings of a domestic or foreign company; the dead MIA and the living NAFTA add the notion of measures " tantamount to expropriation" that would give the right to compensation for " loss of future profits" , for example, in the case of a new regulation concerning environmental protection or public health. This expropriation clause might prevent the member-states party to the agreement from making any sovereign effort in social or environmental policies, as such policies could be considered by business as a barrier to the free expansion of investment.

11 One example was the alliance formed at the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun in September 2003 between the governments of Brazil and India (among others) on the one hand, and the alter-globalists, on the other, against the maintenance of non-egalitarian rules for trade in agricultural products between countries of the North and the South.

12 The political consensus, defined as both the recognition by all of the existence of different visions of the world but also as agreement on a common denominator of strategic action, is based on the Charter of Principles of the Forum in an approach that refuses both neoliberalism and imperialism and the politics of violence. The significant changes that took place in 2004 in India (the extension to other subjects of struggle, opposition to the caste system and to religious fundamentalism and the massive, broader participation of women) strengthened the objectives drawn up at the 2003 WSF. These were aimed at considering the best ways of promoting social justice, solidarity and democracy as global values, at serious reflection on the practice of alternatives to neoliberal globalization and at considering putting into practice the issues discussed at the Forum.



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Submitted in March, 2006.
Accepted in October, 2006.



* This article was awarded the Edelstein Center Award " Gloobalization Agendas" 2005-2006.