World Social Forum: Critical Explorations | Edited by Jai Sen and Peter Waterman

OpenWord, New Delhi, 2012

Available FROM TODAY as an ebook @ and soon also @

And soon to be also available as print-on-demand.


Some advance comments on Critical Explorations :

This is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary phenomenon. From the outset of the 21st century, the World Social Forum has been the premier venue of world social movements. It has been the home of globalized challenges to corporate globalization and neoliberalism from the global opposition to the Iraq war to the transnational challenge to caste and racism to the anti-austerity politics of the Great Recession. It has led to renewed hope that “another world is possible”.

As the Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, climate protection, and other large new movements have spread around the globe in the past two years, the ways in which the World Social Forum and these new movements choose to relate to each other will be critical.  For those who wish to understand the WSF and its limits and potentials for the period ahead, there is no better guide than the new book World Social Forum : Critical Explorations.  Its 36 essays by diverse contributors from around the world engage deep issues about the WSF, and more broadly about the process of social movement globalization, with conceptual clarity and straightforward language and style. Whether the WSF wheel is modified for new conditions or reinvented, the lessons of its experience will be essential for global social change.  This book is an indispensable guide to what the WSF has been and what that means for the future of global social movements. For those in the new movements trying to decide whether and how they should relate to the WSF, this is the book I would tell them to read.

Jeremy Brecher, historian, is author/editor of Global Village or Global Pillage : Economic Reconstruction from the Bottom Up (1994), Globalization from Below : The power of solidarity (2000), and, most recently, Save The Humans ? Common Preservation In Action (2012)


This book is a passionate, reasoned, and critical collection of essays that demonstrate the lasting legacy of the World Social Forum and the horizontal politics that the ‘movement of movements’ helped inspire. At a moment in history when millions of people worldwide are participating in social movements organized through horizontal political structures, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the international history of these practices as well as the problems faced and lessons learned. World Social Forum : Critical Explorations provides an acute political analysis of past social struggles across and between an extraordinary collection of places, spaces, positionalities, and histories and offers a critical but hopeful diversity of ideas for how we can collectively build a better global political/economic system in the future.

Marianne Maeckelbergh, author of The Will of the Many : How the Alterglobalisation Movement is Changing the Face of Democracy (Pluto, 2009) and Assistant Professor in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University, Netherlands.


The constructively encompassing scope, diversity, and dynamically transformative shapings/re-shapings of the World Social Forum phenomenon require an equivalent breadth and fluidity of reflection, critique, and affirmation as we seek to understand positive politics and potentials for the 21st century.  This book, World Social Forum : Critical Explorations, offers an original and vitally needed departure point for such an understanding, with its heterogeneity of voices flowing around the global social justice center of gravity.

Importantly, this provocative and energizing compilation, from a wide variety of writer-activists, provides sharply critical discussions of limitations and impediments to the development of the World Social Forum, such as the key issue of male dominance in certain settings, and the vexing question of who financially can and cannot attend such events.  This necessary and refreshing openness to doing sharply etched reflections on and from the various World Social Forum gatherings, tells us that the dry-rot of dogmatism – that scourge of leftist history – is being transcended.  The openness of Critical Explorations to wide ranging difficulties, possibilities, and organizing necessities is perhaps not so much about ‘a movement’, but rather describes people and organizations around the world that are in movement.  With its constantly constructive respectfully dialogues and critiques and its depiction of the fluidity, dissolution, and resolution of diverse global perspectives, this book is an invaluable reader, both explicating and exhorting the best of the human spirit.

John Brown Childs is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, USA, and author of Transcommunality :  From the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect.


This is an extraordinary book about the most extraordinary fact of our time : The coming together of social movements across the planet, organised around many issues, drawing on very different social groups and speaking in many tongues – but sharing a common refusal of neo-liberalism and daring to work together, as equals, without the blessing of the powerful.Critical Explorations brings to life this multiplicity of voices and many of the crosscutting strands of debate and conflict that animate this reality. It is both a reflection of this process – an image of it – and also carries this further by reflecting on the experience, questioning while walking, shaping new possibilities. As knowledge from below, starting from the South and movement-centred, the book is radically different to conventionally static top-down accounts. Reading this book we can see our own movements in the light of wider possibilities, broader alliances, and at times perhaps even glimpse what it might be like to be part of a future, free humanity.

Laurence Cox is a long-time activist, an editor of the open-access social movements journal Interface, and a director of the MA course in Community Education, Equality, and Social Activism at the National University of IrelandMaynooth.


Ebooks :

In case you’re not familiar with ebooks (and/or don’t have an e-reader), you can also download and use any of the following software to read the epub format it is in, on your computer.  Download any of the following into your computer and then just drag the attachment to this letter onto a blank webpage :

For non-Mac users :

1. Calibre
(This software can convert the epub format into various formats that most popular tablets/ebook devices support. Use this software if your tablet does not support the epub format.)

2. FBReader

3. Firefox Add-On

For Mac freaks :

1. Calibre

2. FBReader

3. Firefox Add-On


A few key points on this book :

Sharing : First, and on the one hand, please note that both we as editors and also the publisher we have published through, OpenWord, would like to see this material used and spread as widely as possible.  If you have a moment, please read our publisher’s statement of its License Policy in the book.  Please therefore feel free to use and share the individual essays under the quite liberal terms that are given there.  Essentially, the only essays on which there are restrictions are the few where an ‘R’ appears on the opening page.  All the rest – with OpenWord’s logo there – are freely usable and shareable !

On the other hand, given that it is an ebook (and is otherwise easily shareable), and given that we at OpenWord and CACIM are non-profit and therefore depend on the income that we can make from sales, please do share your copy of this ebook only with thosewho really would not otherwise be able to afford to buy a copy !

Second : Spread the word… support the project !

From our side, we’d also like to request you to spread the word about this book as widely as possible – in movements you are associated with, and in organisations and institutions you work with, and within your various networks – so that it comes to be widely read and enjoyed.  For those of you who teach, please do try to include it in your course requirements !  And for those of you associated with movements, please do see if you can use this within study circles.

Please also consider adding the web link of this book on any blogs you happen to do, and on your web pages, social media pages, etc – to give it greater visibility and therefore helping in search-engine optimisation.



About the book

Be the change you want to see in the world.”

(Mahatma Gandhi, activist and philosopher from India, 1869-1948, internationally respected for his doctrine of non-violence)

Our world is today at a time of enormous change. On the one hand, there is tremendous scientific and technological change taking place, which in turn is contributing powerfully to widespread social and cultural change of many kinds; there are enormous changes in the world economy leading both to a massively growing concentration of wealth and also to a deepening and widening of precarity across the world; and we are in an accelerating and deepening ecological crisis as a consequence of massive overconsumption and the rape of Mother Earth.

On the other hand, there is intensifying social and political resistance, now across the world and across many sections of societies, both to the negative impacts of all these changes and also to continuing structural injustice in all societies and to continuing colonialism – and also assertion, towards building a more just world. In many ways, the past two decades – the last of the 1900s and the first of the 2000s – have been an extraordinary period in all these terms. The movements seem to have peaked during the year 2011, with major protest movements and irruptions taking place in many places both in what is often now termed ‘the South’ – in some circles still referred to as ‘developing (or ‘emerging’) countries’ – as well as the North, the more industrialised countries. In some places it has already overthrown dictators, governments, and corporations, and forced others into retreat; and there are also now many signs of a growing massification of this upsurge, both within nations and across regions.

Although the World Social Forum – formed precisely during this period and irruption, in 2001, in counter-position to the World Economic Forum and to neoliberalism more generally – may not be at the very centre of such movements (as has been claimed by some), it has certainly become an important actor in this process. Arguably, it has inspired hundreds of thousands (and maybe even millions) of women and men across the world to come together and try and think through and act on its slogan ‘Another World Is Possible !’. As such – and although it has also been strongly critiqued – it has come to be quite widely seen and projected as a major contributor to progressive social change.

But to be the change we want to see, and to think out other worlds, we have to know what we want. This book, World Social Forum : Critical Explorations, is a sequel to the 2004 book titled World Social Forum : Challenging Empires (Viveka, New Delhi; edited by Jai Sen, Anita Anand, Arturo Escobar, and Peter Waterman) and to its international second edition in 2009 (Black Rose Books, Montreal; edited by Jai Sen and Peter Waterman). It brings together some 35 essays from around the world – from authors young and old, women and men, black brown and white, and activists, scholars, and those in between – that enable us all to critically explore and understand this important phenomenon called the World Social Forum; and so to better know what kind of world we want to see and to build.

Read it !


On the book :

[Extract from the Introduction]

The book opens with a section of invocations – a Foreword by Immanuel Wallerstein, a Preface by Peter Waterman, and this Introduction –, which is followed by the main body of the book, organised in three simple sections; and it concludes with the References section listing citations in all the essays, a major document in itself :

      0    Invocations

1      Understanding the WSF : The Roots of the WSF – The WSF as Rhizome

2      The Globalisation of the WSF : The Globalisation of Movement

3      Some Critical Issues – in the WSF, in Movement

4      References

Section 1 critically explores the roots and some of what – and with reference to the discussion of ‘movement’ in the early sections of this Introduction – might called the life forces of the WSF, with seven essays that look kaleidoscopically at this phenomenon; at some / many of the traditions and dynamics that intertwine and combine to appear as ‘the Forum’. This collection of essays therefore richly complements the first Section of our 2004 book, titled ‘Antecedents : Critical Perspectives’ (and also of the second and updated edition of our 2004 book, in 2009).[i]

Section 2, titled ‘The Globalisation of the WSF : The Globalisation of Movement’, moves to frontally examine what, after all, the architects of the WSF set out to do back in 2001 (as a part of launching a war of position on neoliberalism) : To globalise itself and to populate and ‘contaminate’ the world with its ideas (to use a humorous re-use of this word that became quite popular within the alter-globalisation movement). This section therefore also complements the sections with a somewhat similar title and ambition that appeared both in the first (2004) and second (2009) editions of our 2004 book – therefore becoming a similar snapshot, eight and three years later in the life of the Forum.[ii]

In particular, there is again a focus on Africa, both because of Africa’s structural location in the world economy, historically and today – of the most massive exploitation ever known – and also because, in turn, as a function of this, several WSF and/or related meetings (such as of its International Council) have been held in Africa during this period. In addition, it therefore also looks ahead to the next world meeting of the WSF in 2013 that is, at least at the moment, scheduled to be held in Tunisia.

And Section 3, titled ‘Some Critical Issues – in the WSF, in Movement’, gathers together eighteen essays that comprehensively discuss a range of critical issues that course through the WSF – and, arguably, through all social movement. Again, this section becomes a strong update of similar sections in our 2004 and 2009 books, titled ‘Critical Engagement : The World Social Forum’.

Especially if read together, Sections 1, 2, and 3 also provide a strong backdrop to the upcoming world meeting of the WSF in Tunis, in Tunisia, next month (March 26-30 2013).

At the risk of highlighting certain issues and essays over others, it might be useful to also point out here some specific content in this book. There are several essays in Sections 2 and 3 that critically discuss the intense new experiences and perceptions, as well as contradictions, that have arisen as the WSF has been globalised; as mentioned above. See, for instance, the essays by Geoffrey Pleyers and Raúl Ornelas, Wangui Mbatia and Hassan Indusa, Virginia Vargas, and Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle and Nicolas Haeringer in Section 2, and by Rahul Rao, Taran Khan, Amanda Alexander and Mandisa Mbali, Corinna Genschel, Giuseppe Caruso, Shannon Walsh, and Jeffrey S Juris in Section 3.[iii] Written at different points over almost the entire period since our 2004 book (and more particularly since the time when the WSF began to be globalised), and also discussing the Forum as manifested in widely different locations – from India to Kenya to Mali to Brazil to Germany to the USA and the UK -, these essays give a rich and very plural understanding of the dynamics and movements that have raged within the WSF through these years and that course constantly through it, and also a good idea of how debates and concerns within the WSF have evolved over these years.

Section 3 concludes with four key essays on the future of the Forum and one that critically locates the WSF within a much wider and longer history and dynamic. The ones on the future of the Forum are three edited reprints of essays published at that time, two by key WSF actors Walden Bello and Chico Whitaker and one by Alex Callinicos and Chris Nineham, and one that was specially prepared for this book by WSF scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos.[iv] And Ronaldo Munck’s essay – drawn from his classic work Globalisation and Contestation : The New Great Counter-Movement – in one sense engages with all this discussion, and more.[v]

The book concludes with the References section. As is our practice in all our books, in this book too all the bibliographic references given in the various essays are compiled and listed together in the References Section (and not at the end of each essay). We do this in part to avoid duplication across essays, and therefore more pages and higher costs, but also so as to make available to readers a comprehensive list of references in the field that becomes a resource document in of itself; and that then also becomes a contribution to our parallel compilation of a ‘World Social Bibliography’.[vi] And beyond this, by doing this it also pools the resources that all our contributors have individually mined, and becomes a commons.

There are also other interesting ways to look at the collection of essays in this book, however. There are – for instance – several major clusters, or categories of concern, that cut across the essays. One, fundamentally, is understanding the WSF; a second, the perceptions of the WSF from some of its many margins; a third, difference and diversity; and a fourth, looking comprehensively at one of the vital forces that move through the WSF as it does also, perhaps, through much contemporary movement but that has nevertheless always been kept to the margins : Feminism.[vii] So this book is also about social structure more generally, and especially in social movement.

Having said this, and given the history of this book as discussed above – where what appears here is only our ‘final’ permutation of a range of permutations and combinations that we tried -, we also invite you to do your own reading of this content and therefore to, as it were, assemble your own preferred book from this collection. In this sense, there is and will not be any one ‘final’ book. And where this will become even more possible (and interesting) when, as presently planned, we put all or most of these essays – from this book and in time, from its companion books – up on our website, as a part of the commons.


[i] Respectively, Sen, Anand, Escobar, and Waterman, eds, 2004, pp 1-66, and Sen and Waterman, eds, 2009, pp 1-68.

[ii] Sen, Anand, Escobar, and Waterman, eds, 2004, pp 254-310, and Sen and Waterman, eds, 2009, pp 243-342.

[iii] Pleyers and Ornelas 2012; Mbatia and Indusa 2012; Vargas 2012; Pommerolle and Haeringer, 2012; and (in Section 3) : Rao 2012; T Khan 2012; Alexander and Mbali 2012; Genschel 2012; Caruso 2012; Walsh 2012; and Juris 2012b.

[iv] Bello 2012, Whitaker 2012, and Callinicos and Nineham 2012; and de Sousa Santos 2012.

[v] Munck 2007.

[vi] For the first volume, see : Sen, Waterman, and Kumar, December 2003.

[vii] For an in-depth discussion of this dynamic, see in particular the essays in this book by Catherine Eschle and Bice Maiguashca (Eschle and Maiguashca 2012) and by Corinna Genschel (Genschel 2012); and also Conway 2012.


Jai Sen /

Now based in Ottawa, Canada (+1-613-282 2900), and New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325)


JUST OUT ! : Jai Sen and Peter Waterman, eds, 2012 – World Social Forum : Critical Explorations. Volume 3 in the Challenging Empires series.  New Delhi : OpenWord

Jai Sen, ed, 2012 – Imagining Alternatives, Book 3 in the Are Other Worlds Possible ? series.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Daanish Books


Jai Sen and Peter Waterman, eds, forthcoming (2013a) – The Movements of Movements : Struggles for Other Worlds. Volume 4 in the Challenging Empires series.  New Delhi : OpenWord

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One thought on “World Social Forum: Critical Explorations | Edited by Jai Sen and Peter Waterman

  1. Pingback: World Social Forum: Critical Explorations | Edited by Jai Sen and Peter Waterman | Another World Now! |

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