New World Orders: Imagining the Alternatives
Social movements have been said to be both expressions and harbingers of social transformation. A supporter of this idea, Dr. Janet Conway believes the huge range of anti-globalization movements active right now may be a sign that existing political theories of justice and democracy are being reinvented. As Canada Research Chair in Social Justice, she is studying today’s social movements to understand the shifts in global social order happening around them.
Conway sees the World Social Forum (WSF), an annual meeting of anti-globalization activists, as an example of a transnational public space, where diverse grassroots social actors from around the world navigate political and economic inequalities, colonial histories, and social differences to try to build global solidarity.
The WSF brings together social movements that are united in their opposition to neoliberal globalization, providing a forum for women, indigenous peoples and the poor to take part in the global justice movement. The event allows local and global groups from all over the globe to meet, share their struggles and build solidarity.
Using a new socio-political tool called “open space” (where participating groups organize themselves and mount activities for one another) to structure its meetings, the WSF has expanded in scope and influence, despite having no centralized organization or decision-making, and without state or institutional sponsorship.
Conway will investigate the WSF’s relative success in being egalitarian and postcolonial as it confronts issues of colonial difference, feminism and diversity. Her question is: Can the WSF be used as a template for contemporary social movements looking to build effective and inclusive collaborations?
The knowledge gained from studying social transformations at the grassroots level could inform our current political processes and, possibly, present us with options for alternative, more just and peaceful world orders.