Global Civil Society

PhD. Project: The World Social Forum

Abstract English

The situation of social movements has changed in the last decades. Nowadays they have developed a transnational perspective which transcends the national state in reference to the movement objectives as well as the organizational structure. Within the scientific discourse this phenomenon named altermondialist movement is related to the emergence of the so-called New Media as well as the advances in transport technologies. Both lead to a growing interdependency between states and further to the formation of global civil society in the one world.

The World Social Forum has claimed to provide a platform for this growing global civil society since the first meeting in 2001. Following their Charta the World Social Forum understands itself as an “open space” for discussion. This idea is about people who meet in one of the forums on local, national, supranational or global level and share an issue on alternatives to neoliberalism. Apart from this exchange, it is not wanted to develop some sort of binding commitment out of the forum’s meetings as e.g. a final statement or strategy paper. Not to mention that there is of course no membership obligation. This lack of structure shall give space for a new form of politics without hierarchies. Therefore the Charta rejects forms of organization like formal structure, membership or hierarchy.

Anyway to provide this “open space” there is a need of organization. In other words very practical things have to be done like looking for a place to meet and some form of publicity work. So without anyone coordinating the World Social Forum would not be possible. This task, taken by the International Council on the global level, raises the question on how transnational coalitions of movements guarantee their existence over long periods of time. An ethnographic approach which uses mainly participant observation of the International Council meetings shall bring light into the fluid organizational structure, the members relations and the decision making process. Thereby the collected data is analyzed after attending a meeting to make decisions on which aspect the field research will focus the next steps. This interplay between empirical research and analysis will finally lead to a data based theory.


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