CACIM Forum Fellowship
World Social Forum and Question of Grassroots Participation
Uddhab Prasad Pyakurel, (upyakurel[at]gmail.com), New Delhi
Though the World Social Forum (WSF) was basically the outcome of the massive protests against the official meeting of the G7 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999, it has perceived as a new opportunity for and by social movements and civil society organizations. As a result, the forum process has come to involve over a million people, their organizations and their agendas in about two hundred local, national, regional also thematic forums in most parts of the world (Pasanen and Wekken 2006) as thousands of people have been working together to expand it in new areas.
When the process has achieved a great success within a short term, the credit can be given to its ‘open space’ kind of nature which can be viewed as process of global democratic dialogue where in principle any one can part who adhere to the charter of principle of the WSF, on an equal footing and with equal access to influence and shape alternative. In real, people started seeing it as ‘deliberative democracy’ which emphasizes participation and quality of communication (Porta 2005). According to a study conducted by IBASE (2005), exchange of experience among the participants; the proposal of the forum to contribute towards a fairer global society; and the democratic debate of ideas are the three major reasons for participation in the WSF.
In the meantime, there is argument that the ‘open space’ which is much highlighted by the WSF advocates is not completely open in terms of the nature of participation in the different forums. Based on the date of the list of participants of various, one can frequently ask a question whether there are participants from grassroots groups or those who are sort of associated with NGOs and INGOs. According to a research, the largest groups amongst the participants of WSFs come not from vernacular groups but from either NGOs or civil society organizations except in Mumbai WSF 2004 (see IBASE 2005; Pasanen and Wekken 2006).
Even the Mumbai WSF which is considered an inclusive and participatory WSFs till today in terms of the characteristics of participation raise a question of whether the Dalits, Adivasis and vernacular groups attended the meeting with their spontaneous will or they were mobilized by the NGOs just to take part the forum. As the word ‘participation’ refers to involvement by local populations in the creation, content and conduct of program or policy designed to change their lives (Jennings 2000), we have to analyze whether the grassroots stakeholders can play such roles in WSF process so that it can be considered as ‘participatory’ and ‘democratic’ process as well. The concept of participation came into fore when contributors like Freire (1970) started advocating a radical reorientation of the whole process of generating knowledge so that the poor and marginalized would be empowered to “generate their own knowledge”. As WSF process, till the date is dominated by those who are well connected with cyber world, and as WSF hardly uses other communication mechanisms which are comfortable and reachable to the grassroots groups, the excepted outcome is that the vernacular groups always are kept out not only from the process of knowledge production but also from the real and enthusiastic participation.
The canvas and context from the very inception of the WSF process, migrant Nepalese and their friendly organizations played a critical role in linking ‘willing Nepali civil society’ with the regional and global democratization processes. Therefore, I think that we have to examine the impressionistic similarities between Indian and Nepali WSF process that vernacular groups, not cyber linked groups and organizations from among the marginalized community or from marginal region are very keen to be linked with the WSF process in India and South Asia whereas the Nepali networks who have established brand image and link with the upper ranks of the party leadership, they seem to be always in search of excuses not to let the process acquire its own momentum.
Given the situation, WSF process has to handle a challenge that how the thrust of ‘open space’ which is its basic guiding principal, be saved from any sort of domination or imperialism. In this background, the proposed study wants to critically analyze the real challenge of the WSF as ‘open space’ with its assumption of equal access on an equal footing of the democratic dialogue.
- To develop a substantial understanding of the WSF with a critical examination of its procedural depth, methodology, potentialities, limitations etc. of the Forum.
- To understand whether the WSF in moving towards its objective to make the forum activities equally accessible to all especially the grassroots groups.
- To examine the fundamental claim of WSF being designed as more as open space different from any network, coalition, or federation with a definable sense of boundaries.
- To know a link between the two WSF events and intervening process. In other words, to take a look whether it is a process or only the event based activity.
- To understand if other than International Council, what are the sources of existence and legitimacy of WSF process?
The proposed study will be exploratory one in the sense that it intends to test the broader proposition of how the process tries to meet its one of the main objectives of making it an “open space” giving an equal access to all especially the grassroots groups of the society. Following the argument of Beteille (1990; also 1991:26), “the sociological approach must take its orientation from the lived experiences of the present rather than the presumed idea of the past”, fieldwork will be done to understand the perceptions and experiences of those who took part different WSFs and its regional and national events.
This study will involve only qualitative research methods. Qualitative analysis will be enriched by some quantitative data collected from the secondary sources. Primary data will be collected from WSF related meetings, discussions, dialogues, workshops, and seminars held in India. Data may be collected from meetings, discussions, dialogues, workshops, and seminars held in other parts of world if the researcher gets opportunities to take part such meetings during the research period. Again, using the semi-structured schedules/questioners some in-depth interview will be taken to those who have been engaged with various WSF related works as organizers, participants, discourse creators, donors, observers etc. The study, however, would be more representative incorporating different sectors and groups of the society in the study. The proposed study aims that information collected by primary and secondary sources will be helpful to produce comprehensive research paper on the subject matters.
As I myself is one of the members who has been active to the Nepal WSF process from the very day of its preparatory process, I am in touch with sexual minorities, Adivasi groups, Dalits, women groups and other regional minorities in Nepal who are very much enthusiastic to link them with WSF process. If I am given the opportunity to receive this fellowship, I preferably link the perception of the people of those groups so that this study would help to overcome the dilemma about the status of South Asian Social Forum.
Regarding the list of contacts in my field area
As mentioned earlier, I am actively participating in the WSF related works for last years. As I have attended many WSF related meetings in India and Nepal, I am in touch with many WSF activists here and there. Also, I am in contact with some of Members of Parliaments in Nepal who have been helping to make the proposed South Asian Social Forum a great success. Again, as I had an opportunity to take part the last IC meeting held in Abuja, Nigeria, I personally know many leading figures of WSF process from Latin America, USA, Europe, Africa and Asia.
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