The third strand is that of parallel NGO forums to the large United Nations conferences of the 1990s (see Pianta 2001; Krut 1997). These meetings, dealing with the environment, human rights, gender and social policy and development issues, attracted an increasing number of professional NGOs, there to lobby governments, but also to network with each other. Ideologically, these NGO forums were not that much akin to the social forum phenomenon, but they created the habit amongst NGOs and wider civil society activists of going to broad-based international meetings, a function which the World Social Forum has to some extent taken over.

Origins and principles


Opposition to the World Economic Forum (WEF) was first expressed in a protest meeting and demonstration in Davos in January 1999. Members of Le Monde Diplomatique/ATTAC and the Brazilian Landless Movement (MST) were among the participants. A year later, Brazilian social entrepreneur Oded Grajew (see Grenier 2004, 133-4) and director of the Brazilian Commission for Justice and Peace Francisco Whitaker met with the French ATTAC and Le Monde Diplo director Bernard Cassen to discuss the possibility of a larger alternative forum (Whitaker 2004a; Teivanen 2002). ‘Their discussion produced three central ideas for the forum. First of all, it should be held in the South, and more concretely in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. Second, the name should be World Social Forum (WSF), changing only one key word from the adversary’s name. And third, it should be organised over the same dates as the WEF, partially because this symbolism was considered attractive for the media’ (Teivanen 2002: 623) Soon afterwards, the mayor of Porto Alegre and the governor of the state, Rio Grande do Sul, both belonging to the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party), agreed to support the forum financially and logistically. The first WSF which took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001, marked the beginning of the social forum phenomenon. It was the first global civil society event designed to take place in the South, with the express purpose of bringing together activists and global civil society organisations working on diverse issues, through diverse methods, within a format described as a social forum.

Countless articles are available on different aspects of social forums, especially on-line, but increasingly also in academic publications. Most, however, are based on personal experiences, and most focus on the global and regional level. We, too, of course draw on personal experiences, but in addition we have mapped and analysed global, regional, thematic, national and local social forums, done a content analysis of World Social Forum programmes and selected regional, national and local Social Forum programmes, and pulled together other current research. We aim to provide a helicopter view of social forums, as well as a critical analysis of their functions for global civil society, and the tensions inherent in or attendant on this form of organising.

One of the most striking ways in which global civil society activists have responded to globalisation in recent years is through the organisation of social forums. Although the term ‘social forum’ is in reality adopted by very diverse groups, a social forum can be understood as a space that facilitates people coming together, either in person or virtually, to engage with each other on political issues. Local, national, regional, thematic and global social forums have mushroomed in the last few years, inspired, either directly or indirectly, by the World Social Forum (WSF) and its Charter of Principles.

Unresolved issues

Through the categorisation of obligations, the identification of a minimum core content, and the violations approach, the nature of the obligations exacted by economic and social rights had become much more clear by the end of the 1990s than they had been even ten years earlier. Since then, new networks, synergies and methodologies have emerged that begin to enable global civil society to push for implementation. Nonetheless, some complex questions remain that cannot be resolved simply by calling either for more legal-academic clarification or for more political activism. They require urgent answers from global civil society actors if they are to make any progress in exacting universal enjoyment of economic and social rights.

New methodologies

A recent trend in global civil society has been the growth of budget analysis, which aims generally to make government conduct more transparent and accountable. It is particularly relevant to economic and social rights because the Covenant and other legal texts oblige states to take steps to fulfil these rights ‘to the maximum of their available resources’. Where that maximum lies in a particular context is of course contested, but budget analysis can be a powerful political tool demonstrating a government’s commitment to a particular right, or lack thereof. An analysis of the Mexican budget over four years from the point of view of the right to health found that resource allocation for the control and prevention of disease was declining; a disproportionate share of the health budget went to those employed in the formal sector, and more ‘pro-poor’ spending of the federal budget went to the better-off rather than the poorest states. This pioneering project was published in book form in 2004 (Centro de Analisis e Investigacion et al. 2004). A handful of other such projects are under way, and in March 2005 Dignity International organised a first ‘linking and learning’ programme for human rights activists and budget analysis groups (ESCR-Net URL). Rights-based budget analysis is bound to be further refined and become a more widely used tool in coming years.

While social forum sessions have all the advantages and drawbacks of embedding economic and social rights activism in a much wider movement, a specific network on economic and social rights has also recently been founded. The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) was officially inaugurated in June 2003, after years of deliberation, with a founding conference attended by 250 activists from over 50 countries. ESCR-Net is primarily a facilitating platform rather than a campaigning coalition (ESCR-Net URL).

New departures

New forums

The World Social Forum (WSF) has in recent years become a place of convergence and crossover between different types of global civil society activists (Glasius and Timms 2005). As described above, the early social justice movement may have distrusted the human rights paradigm, and made no use of the economic and social rights frame. This has definitely begun to change with the spread of the social forums. The 2005 WSF made human rights one of its 11 themes, and about one third of the events held in the human rights space concerned economic and social rights-related themes (Forum Social Mundial 2005). Still, the evidence of a convergence between human rights activists and the social justice movement around economic and social rights remains somewhat mixed. Many social justice activists continue to make no reference to economic and social rights, speaking more broadly of justice and equality versus the criminality, greed and destructiveness of the neo-liberal paradigm instead. Even when they do, their concerns and approaches and those of the human rights community sometimes remain completely separate.

Ecuador, with Colombia and Peru, has been negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement for the Andes countries with the United States since 2004. While draft texts are secret, Ecuadorian civil society groups have been particularly concerned about a clause on intellectual property rights, which could block access to cheap generic drugs. In July 2004, the president tried to smooth the negotiations with a decree on intellectual property that would have the same effect. The Centro de Derechos Economicos y Sociales (CDES), an offshoot of CESR in New York, wrote to the government, citing pronouncements by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to demonstrate that the decree was contrary to the right to health. Within two weeks, Ecuador’s head negotiator wrote back, agreeing that the draft decree was unconstitutional and in violation of the right to health, endangering access to affordable medicine. The decree was not passed, and Ecuador’s trade team has begun using human rights language in the negotiations, which at the time of writing are ongoing (‘Ecuador’ 2004; CDES URL).

State implementation of the right to food remains lacklustre and even the Court’s commissioners are still routinely denied access to relevant documents. However, while the initial petition was brought only by a small group of lawyers from the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the Supreme Court’s proactive stance has galvanised a much wider campaign. Besides public interest litigation, the Right to Food Campaign organises marches, rallies and fasts, initiates public hearings, conducts research, and engages in media advocacy and lobbying. Provision of midday meals to schoolchildren has been a particularly effective campaign target. On 9 April 2002, the campaign coordinated a national day of action for midday meals. Across some 100 districts in nine states, activists organised a host of activities – schoolchildren lined roads with empty plates in hand, copies of the Supreme Court’s order were distributed, and local communities, NGOs and people’s organisations fed children in public places in order to embarrass the government for not doing so. Some members of the campaign have since expanded their work to include the right to employment, in particular in relation to cash-for-work or food-for-work schemes. The campaign remains largely a volunteer effort, which accepts only individual donations in rupees with no strings attached (Right to Food Campaign URL; Interview Patnaik).

The Grootboom case was hailed by human rights lawyers all over the world. It gave life to the far-reaching provisions in the South African Constitution and demonstrated that a judicial court could review and enforce even the ‘obligation to fulfil’ economic and social rights, by using a standard of ‘reasonableness’ that is familiar to many legal systems (Pieterse 2004). Yet it also raises questions about how much lawsuits can actually achieve. After the case the state purchased the squatted farm and some surrounding land to develop low-cost housing for the Grootboom group and others. But the only amenity on the site now named ‘Grootboom’, where several thousand people live, is a foul-smelling sanitary block with about 12 toilets and some showers and washbasins, most of which are blocked (Schoonakker 2004; Whittal et al. 2004). Box 3.3, which describes the story of the Pom Mahakan community in Bangkok, demonstrates a very different form of community activism and negotiation to prevent eviction.

National and regional successes

Perhaps the greatest advances in economic and social rights, or at least the ones most visible to actual victims of economic and social rights violations, have been made at the national level. Parliaments have adopted laws and constitutional changes that directly recognise economic and social rights, and attendant state obligations; and courts have been increasingly active in interpreting national and international law in such a way that they can judge whether a violation of a right has taken place, and recommend state action to redress the situation. Mostly, both the new laws and the legal judgments have come about after sustained civil society campaigns. There are too many examples of such national victories to describe them all here. Box 3.2 gives a brief overview of the most significant developments.

However, most organisations have not confined their commitment to human rights purely to rhetoric. The majority have reached Uvin’s second level of adoption, having begun to institute some human rights programmes. International organisations such as UNDP, the bilateral development agencies of Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and NGOs including Save the Children Fund and Care all fall into this category (Darrow and Tomas 2005: 480; Piron 2005). Typically, this adoption translates simply into financial support for projects of local and international human rights organisations, which sometimes include new specialised economic and social rights organisations or hybrids between traditional fields.

Another innovation agreed at the Vienna conference may have been of more practical relevance to the status of economic and social rights. It was decided that the UN should have a global ‘face’ of human rights in the form of a high commissioner. The second incumbent of this post, the vocal Mary Robinson, committed herself to redressing the imbalance of attention between civil and political versus economic and social rights. She famously emphasised time and again that extreme poverty was the worst kind of human rights abuse. This constituted a paradigm shift. Most human rights experts at that time, and perhaps still, would have identified situations of genocide or ethnic cleansing as the worst form of human rights abuse. Most development experts would have been inclined to think of extreme poverty as an intractable problem, not a human rights violation.

Deepening and widening the focus on economic and social rights

In academia, the Limburg Principles sparked innumerable articles and a spate of doctoral dissertations, constituting a new field of expertise within human rights scholarship. This began to address objections against economic and social rights as ‘too vague’, ‘too costly’, or ‘not amenable to judicial review’. The objection often raised against the justiciability of economic and social rights – namely, that the Covenant allows the rights to be ‘progressively realised’ rather than immediately guaranteed – was met with the notion that each right has a ‘minimum core content’ (and a related, operationalised and context-dependent ‘minimum threshold’) that does require immediate implementation. Shue’s tripartite division of obligations was elaborated for different rights, and supplemented with another categorisation into ‘four A’s’: food, health or housing must be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. Again, there are variations on this theme. More recently, scholars have taken their cue from activists’ work by transferring their focus from the nature of the obligations to a ‘violations approach’, working outwards from the most egregious violations.

At the same time, some grassroots membership groups of Amnesty International were beginning to feel frustrated with the organisation’s limited mandate. In 1982 the Heidelberg group in Germany sent a letter to other Amnesty groups suggesting a new orientation on economic and social rights, and got positive responses from groups in Austria, Switzerland and Italy. The right to food – most concrete, most directly connected to life and death, but also most defensible from a resource perspective – soon became the focus. The national and international leadership made it clear that it was not prepared to move in this direction, so individual members took their actions outside Amnesty and started networking with development and solidarity groups. Sometimes these organisations were reluctant to adopt a human rights approach to food, but there were always some individuals who were enthusiastic. After three years, the network was transformed into a formal human rights organisation, the Foodfirst Information and Action Network (FIAN). Inspired by the Amnesty approach, it focused on blatant violations such as famines related to forced relocation, and undertook Urgent Actions, writing letters to governments, ‘even though we did not quite know what was a violation of the right to food, we were finding that out as we were doing it’ (Interview Kuenneman). Today, FIAN has around 3,300 members in 60 countries, only 12 paid staff, and continues to rely largely on voluntary work by its 40 or so active groups. It continues to write protest letters and send fact-finding missions, and also campaigns for agrarian reform, lobbies the UN and undertakes human rights education (FIAN URL).

Discovery by global civil society

In the early 1980s, small groups of activists, philosophers and lawyers were simultaneously but separately beginning to rediscover the most vital and compelling of all economic and social rights, the right to food.

In general, it is the job of domestic law enforcement to uphold these rules. But even if we live in a global community, there remain separate legal jurisdictions. So what does this argument imply for territories that are occupied or where the state is repressive and acts unlawfully? One answer is that international institutions have a role to play and that, in cases of genocide or other crimes against humanity, there could be a case for an international use of force, if authorised by the United Nations or justifiable in an international court of law, within very strict limitations about how that use of force is exercised – that is, that it must be defensive and minimise all loss of life; long-distance bombing to stop genocide, for example, is unacceptable. The adoption of the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine by the United Nations is a step in this direction but the implementation of this responsibility has not yet been specified.

A recursive process of state co-optation accompanied by successive waves of anti-institutionalism within civil society continues unabated. Anti-globalisation was succeeded by the positive programmes of the World Social Forums with commitment to non-violence (see Glasius and Timms 2005). Geoffrey Pleyers shows (Box I.2) how resistance to being institutionalised in civil society has led others to adopt the ‘alter-global’ quest for a ‘new culture of politics’, escaping the oxymoron of ‘organising worldwide to defeat globalization’. Backlash against global civil society comes then from two opposite corners: from states and from those seeking radical alternatives to institutionalisation.

Before this, the Climate Justice Summit was held in 2000 in the Hague, paralleling the COP6 negotiations. It was attended by a delegation of Hispanic, black and indigenous leaders from the environmental justice movement in North America, who also held their own forum. They expressed scepticism about the technical nature of the UN negotiations and the role of corporate lobbyists and emission brokers therein, claiming:

In the end, the impetus will not likely come from within government. It is a sure bet not to come from the polluting industry. Climate justice will likely take root from meetings like the Climate Justice Summit where those most affected share their common experiences and decide to take collective action. Waiting for governments may be too deadly for communities of color and the planet. (Bullard 2000)

The Inuit people of Canada and Alaska (the Inuit Circumpolar Conference) have adopted a strategy of litigation threatening, alongside the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), to file a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2005 against the Bush administration for posing a climate-related threat to their survival. A briefing circulated at COP10 in Buenos Aires stated: ‘It is not an exaggeration to say that the impacts are of such a magnitude that they ultimately could destroy the ancient Inuit culture’ (EarthJustice and CIEL 2004). Responsible for approximately 25 per cent of global emissions, the US is targeted because of its failure to reduce emissions that have contributed substantially to the impacts felt by indigenous communities (see Box 3.6).

In terms of strategy, groups belonging to the climate justice movement, such as Rising Tide, have opted for public education strategies and training (campaigning and public speaking workshops), and the production of materials (videos, fact sheets, CD-ROM, comic books) alongside strategies directly critical of the current course of the policy debate and continued financing of new oil and gas development, for example (Rising Tide 2004). Groups working on the impacts of climate change on specific social groups have also begun to organise themselves. Genanet, which describes itself as a focal point for gender justice and sustainability, would be one example of a group drawing attention to the differential role of women with regard the impacts and perceived risks associated with climate change, as well as their lack of participation in decision-making to date (Genanet url). Similarly, the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative is a coalition of dozens of religious and civil rights organisations advocating ‘the fair treatment of people of all races, tribes and economic groups in the implementation and enforcement of environmental protection laws’ (EJCCI 2002). Disproportionate impacts from climate change might accrue to these groups because, for example, 80 per cent of people of colour and indigenous people in the US live in coastal regions.

The outsiders cohere

If these are some of the conflicts and divisions that characterise those groups closely involved in tracking and seeking to shape the negotiations, another set of groups approach the issue from a very different angle. Their focus is on the relationship between rights, environmental injustice and climate inequality. These links are manifested in the relationship between climate change and the struggles around environmental racism pursued by broader social movements such as the environmental justice movement and the anti-globalisation movement. Destruction of the world’s climate increasingly features in broader critiques of neo-liberalism, testimony for which is the profile the issue has received in European and World Social Forums.

On the face of it, Indymedia is a clear recent example of global civil society: a global network that links various new sites of news, opinion and debate on political issues within a global frame, and in a way, as Pickard illustrates, that was in principle impossible without the Internet. Indeed, the Indymedia network deepens global civil society in two ways, as Pickard shows: first, by offering a new type of media practice, a new type of ‘newsroom’ much more open to the contributions of non-media professionals; second, by a highly de-centered process of policy making and decision making, which encourages local initiative and adaptability. But this initial success generates major questions for the long-term: how far will Indymedia’s implicit challenge to traditional news production values be taken? Under what conditions is Indymedia’s distinctive media and political practice sustainable and for whom in particular? These questions become even more acute when, as Pickard notes, we recall that only one fourth of the 150 IMCs worldwide are based in the South, just as ‘global civil society’ has from the outset been dominated by the North (Anheier, Glasius and Kaldor 2001: 7).

‘It’s a war of perceptions’, Army Brigadier General John Custer, head of intelligence at Central Command, told CBS News’ 60 Minutes. ‘They [the insurgents] understand the power of the Internet. They don’t have to win in the tactical battlefield. They never will. No platoon has ever been defeated in Afghanistan or Iraq. But it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant’ (Pelley 2007).

How? On the screen. Television, Ignatieff wrote, ‘is the instrument of a new kind of politics’, one in which NGOs seek to circumvent bilateral governmental relations and institute direct political contacts between far-flung people. This notion, exemplified in the paradigms of ‘mobilizing shame’ and ‘global witness,’ today dominates the ‘third sector,’ from relief agencies to human rights organisations and community movements. For us, that new politics has been generalised and radicalised. Global civil society is unthinkable without media, without a virtual public space and access to its means of production and distribution. Indeed, under the banners of opening-democratic-spaces and overcoming-the-digital-divide, creating and defending those media zones has become one of the chief preoccupations of the new political movements of our time. The current concern with information and communications technology for development is just one indicator of this phenomenon. But civil society – and the new people politics – is not what it used to be.

Michel Foucault, speaking in 1981, heralded the emergence of an ‘international citizenry’ (quoted in Keenan 1987: 22), exemplified by Amnesty International and others, which had created a new right, that of private individuals to intervene in the order of international politics and strategies, to uproot the monopoly over reality previously held by governments.

It seemed that images could make governments undo what previous images had apparently galvanised them to do. ‘The media got us into Somalia and then got us out’, wrote John Shattuck, former US assistant secretary for human rights and democracy in the Clinton era (1996: 174). The story was obviously more complicated than that (and the counter-example of over-exposed and under-defended Sarajevo can serve as shorthand here) but the message is conventional wisdom today. No major human rights or humanitarian organisation would undertake a major advocacy campaign, and certainly not one aimed at influencing Northern policy makers, without a comprehensive media strategy.

These images were so powerful that aid agencies felt obliged to consider their use carefully and even to develop ethical codes to help protect against the risk of exploiting those whom they sought to help. Critics worried about ‘disaster pornography’. When television went global and live, as a matter of norm rather than exception, the effects multiplied. And so, a decade ago, it seemed impossible to discuss the international events of the day – Rodney King and the LA riots, the Gulf War, famine in Somalia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, genocide in Rwanda – without reflecting on the seemingly overwhelming role that televised images of violence and suffering played in shaping the way crises unfolded. But opinions were split on just what that role was.

The basic analytic units of the Jihad on the web are the forum and the video file. The agents are dispersed across the Islamic world from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Palestine, to Chechnya, Somalia, Algeria and beyond to their comrades in the US, Asia and Europe. They also differ greatly in ideology, theology, and outlook, including Iraqi insurgent armies (mostly Sunni but including some Shiite militias loosely related to Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army); those with their own media production units; and the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters and leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan (including Al-Qaeda’s most important media production unit, As-Sahab).

What if that’s the distinction that we can’t take for granted anymore, the one between the street and the camera, between ‘our own little world’ of the screen and the big one out there, where what’s really going on, is going on, really? What if the time lag is increasingly being reduced to little or nothing? What about things that happen on screen, that happen only in order to be on screen, that wouldn’t happen without a camera and a screen? Today it is indisputable that such events do occur, that revolutions – or at least insurrections, uprisings, violent acts of resistance – are being televised, blogged, videotaped.

In a well-circulated intervention, Whitney (2006), a long-term activist with Indymedia experience in a number of countries, argued that this laissez-faire approach to the newswire combined with shoddy newsgathering was exactly what was ailing Indymedia. On the other hand, NYC IMC’s The Indypendent, which just celebrated its one hundredth issue, continues to produce reliably good journalism that, if not directly impacting mainstream news media discourse, breaks important local issues eventually picked up by outlets like the New York Times (Thompson & Anderson 2007).

All of this raises questions about how communication technologies affect global democracy – and the nature of global civil society itself. In some ways, the entry of groups such as the NRA and WFSA into the global arena makes for greater democracy. New voices add to the marketplace of ideas. Theorists of global civil society need to open their eyes to this diversity and its implications for democratic practice. For too long, progressive NGOs have identified themselves as ‘global civil society,’ and sympathetic academics have fueled this perception (Wapner 1996). On this narrow empirical base, elaborate theories of transnational politics have then been erected. This creates the impression that global civil society is thick with like–minded groups harmoniously cooperating to fight corporate greed and state power: they may disagree over strategy, but all fundamentally agree about the world’s problems.

Much of the conflict between pro–gun and pro–control forces is vicious. The groups critique one another’s policy positions and allege deception and misrepresentation. Personal attacks are common. So are efforts to exclude the other side from participation or to de-legitimate institutions in which it appears to be making gains. Yet despite contradictory content, the framing of the contending sides’ messages, like their media strategies, is quite similar. Both networks portray themselves as moral actors representing the global public interest. Both mix scientific studies and rational arguments with emotional, even histrionic, appeals to their own constituents. Both portray their opponents as so misguided, self–interested, deceitful, even evil, that persuasion, debate, and compromise is impossible. Both identify powerful, shadowy and suspect sources as their foes’ bankrollers: for IANSA, the global gun industry is the dark force behind WFSA; for the NRA, George Soros is IANSA’s ‘sugar daddy,’ along with a ‘broad collection of left–wing foundations’ and European governments (La Pierre 2006a: 8, 11). Both sides seek to strip each other’s networks of more moderate members. And both sides highlight the other sides’ missteps. For instance, in early 2007 a leaked draft of an NRA fundraising pamphlet, ‘Freedom in Peril’ drew media accusations of xenophobia, extremism, and racism. In a milder passage, it described the UN and IANSA as ‘part of a marching axis of adversaries far darker and more dangerous than gun owners have ever known’ (NRA 2007: 1). IANSA quickly responded by placing a link to the online version of this ‘scathing attack on gun control advocates, NGOs, the United Nations, feminists and the media’ on its website (IANSA 2007). For its part, the NRA has festooned its attacks on IANSA with unflattering outtakes of Rebecca Peters, taken from the ‘Great Gun Debate’ (LaPierre 2006b; see Box 10.1).

But the UN is only one arena for this transnational gun activism. Like IANSA, the NRA scours the world for gun–related issues to use in its fundraising and policymaking efforts. In this integrated global struggle, everything from a school shooting in Pennsylvania, and a paramilitary massacre in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, to the Holocaust is likely to turn up in the contending networks’ campaigns. Reciprocally, local groups facing gun control threats at home regularly seek NRA and WFSA aid, just as those suffering gun violence often turn to IANSA. The Brazilian referendum was only a recent example of a pattern visible also in places as far–flung as South Africa, Japan, and Great Britain.

In addition to informing and inflaming the pro–gun base, these ‘autonomous communication spaces’ help WFSA and the NRA influence domestic and global gun policy, which they see as intertwined. WFSA has roster consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, and its member organisations have for years fought IANSA and UN efforts to control trade in small arms. This has included engaging directly with the ‘enemy,’ not only through research rebutting the pro–control network’s ideas, but also through public confrontations, most prominently the ‘Great Gun Debate,’ an internationally–televised encounter between LaPierre and IANSA Director Rebecca Peters in 2004 (see Box 10.1; both sides now use DVDs or transcripts of the ‘Great Debate’ to illustrate the dire threat their constituents face). At UN conferences, both pro–control and pro–gun groups seek to shape discourse and shift agendas, using information kits, press releases, and speeches. Representatives from WFSA member organisations, including the NRA, have won seats on country delegations and vigorously lobby other delegates. And both sides have drummed up ‘grassroots’ campaigns aimed at influencing the UN and attracting media attention. For instance, the July 2006 letter–writing onslaught would have been difficult without the NRA’s ‘Stop the UN Gun Ban’ website, which included pre-written letters available for immediate download and mailing to Kofi Annan, John Bolton, and the chairman of the RevCon. For its part, IANSA and the associated Control Arms group mounted their own ‘Million Faces’ campaign, which submitted a photographic petition – said to include over one million participants from more than 160 countries – urging the UN to adopt global arms export standards (Control Arms URL). Ultimately, the RevCon ended in failure, with no action to extend the 2001 Programme of Action’s purely voluntary ‘goals’, themselves the result of US government ‘redlines’ supported by the NRA.

This chapter has sought to demonstrate the complex, contradictory and countervailing media trends shaping the character of democracies in the twenty-first century. It has not been its intention, despite inevitable biases, to reach definitive conclusions or specific policy recommendations or conclusions. The author believes, for example, in the critical role that commercial media can play in invigorating the public sphere, as well as community media and public service broadcasting; that globalisation and concentration of media can sometimes bring important benefits, although generally these are greatly outweighed by the problems; that the role of development agencies in strengthening the media is vital, but such support is fraught with problems and inherent contradictions.

Pursuing the same strategy of forming links to like-minded elements within the business community, some groups have sought to work with the insurance industry, forging alliances with insurance companies and banks and encouraging them to shift their lending away from fossil fuels into renewables (Paterson 1999). The aim is to mobilise the finance sector to bring about the shifts in industry necessary to promote more sustainable and climate-benign forms of energy production. The political weight of the sector is not lost on those environmentalists seeking to engage it. As Greenpeace Business (1993: 4) notes, ‘the government is fully aware that the London insurance world is a major employer and contributes handsomely to the UK’s invisible earnings’. The insurance industry has a particular stake in promoting these changes given that it has suffered in the past and will continue to suffer huge losses from pay-outs following climate-related damage to properties that they have insured. For example, by 1995 ‘leading insurers from all the world’s main insurance centres had spoken of the threat of bankruptcy from unmanageable catastrophe losses’ (Jeremy Leggett cited in Paterson 1999: 25). This came on the back of hurricane Andrew in 1992, which cost the insurance industry $US20 billion in payouts on weather-related damage. The fragile alliance between environmentalists and sections of the financial community provides one example of the type of strategic political coalition that environmentalists are seeking to construct to advance a proactive agenda on climate change.

The third risk is that, parallel to the globalisation of civil society, a globalisation of NGO advocacy is occurring. Such a global process retains credibility and legitimacy when it is rooted in the experience of ordinary people in developing countries. Instead, professionalised advocacy organisations have evolved a development agenda and associated campaigns designed to exercise maximum communicative power through the media. This has clear advantages, in terms of raising the global profile of poverty-related issues, but it risks excluding the very people most affected by poverty. This tendency is reinforced by other factors. As development budgets become increasingly decentralised and budget support mechanisms become the norm, policy and financial priorities are set within developing countries (rather than at donor headquarters), which has clear advantages. But it has effects on how international NGOs operate in developing countries and, in turn, how the media agenda is shaped. By deploying their advocacy resources on issues and experiences within developing countries, in order to gain public and political attention, civil society organisations can dominate media coverage at the expense of indigenous public debate and journalism. In poor countries, public spheres are more limited than in industrialised countries (because the number of and audience for media entities is more limited, and budgets for investigative journalism are more scarce, for example) and such societies can be particularly vulnerable to agendas – even public interest ones – shaped by forces outside the country. If the media and public agendas are shaped more by those with the largest advocacy budgets and access to global celebrities or brands, rather than indigenous processes, this risks appropriating, rather than allowing the grassroots exercising of, communicative power.

The first risk is that it is a fragile movement on stilts, with shallow support structures incapable of dealing with setbacks and shifts in political mood. Live 8, the massive global music concert coinciding with the 2005 G8 summit was an event focused not on raising money but on raising public awareness on Africa, featured barely a single voice from Africa, an event about Africa, not of or from Africa. Criticism of this feature of Live 8 has been well rehearsed, but it is perhaps emblematic of an event focused on the exercise of communicative power by those best in a position to exercise that power, rather than a deliberate attempt to share and invest others with such power. The opportunity of Live 8 was to provide the Make Poverty History campaign with a set of supporters and voices that could nurture it through the inevitable difficulties that lie ahead. Most opinion polls suggest that public support in the UK in particular for efforts to tackle poverty is very widespread, but also very fragile. While the main justification of celebrity-led campaigns is their ability to reach a large number of people, some evidence suggests that their impact is short lived and shallow. Research in Britain shows public concern about poverty in poor countries reached a high of 32%, in April 2005, prior to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in June, and two years has declined to 22%, its lowest level since the study began (Darnton 2007).

The huge success and impact of advocacy and campaigning, and the exercise of communicative power by celebrities and public figures, has been acknowledged above. The social movements that were earlier the principal sources of public pressure for greater attention to be paid to debt, global inequality, poverty and the environment, have been supplanted by a set of new players who are better equipped to exercise communicative power in the twenty-first century. The anti-globalisation protests of Seattle in 1999, the World Social Forums and the many other examples of global civil society action, which have been explored in the Global Civil Society Yearbook series, are now subsidiary sources of global action.

At this stage of the process in general, environmental NGOs find it harder to bring the weight of public pressure to bear on governments, as such pressure is more easily dissipated by the lethargy and complexity of bureaucracy and by the realisation of the costs associated with policy options designed to meet international obligations. Frustration with the slow pace of implementation has led some groups to pressure local councils to set their own greenhouse gas reduction targets. In persuading local authorities to make commitments, NGOs have played a facilitating role in exchanging information about how other towns and cities have managed to reduce emissions. For example, some 850 local authorities in Europe are now jointly implementing local climate protection initiatives, while in Japan more than 50 municipalities are setting local environmental targets. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) has brought together more than 400 municipalities to reduce emissions in cities in central and eastern Europe (ICLEI 2004).

One strategy adopted by groups at the national level to force mandates for government action involves filing legal suits. Twelve US states, several cities and over a dozen environmental groups joined forces to challenge an administrative ruling denying the EPA authority to control greenhouse gases on the grounds that these gases do not meet the Clean Air Act’s definition of ‘pollutant’ (ICTA 2003). The plaintiffs challenged the EPA decision in the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the International Center for Technology Assessment, said of the case:

The Bush administration can try to ignore the science behind the causes of global warming, but it can’t hide from the law. If it takes lawsuit after lawsuit to force the Bush administration to accept its responsibilities and pursue good public policy on this issue, then that’s what it will face. (ICTA 2003)

A key rationale behind the use of legal suits is that they help to focus public attention on a particular instance of government inaction. Yet it should be noted that many of the strategies of awareness-raising and public education that are adopted at earlier stages of the policy process have less traction at this stage. Put bluntly, ‘the questions of verification and monitoring are extremely complex and boring for the media and the public’ (Gulbrandsen and Andresen 2004: 70).

The final negotiations on the compliance procedure for the Kyoto Protocol were conducted behind closed doors. Some NGOs nevertheless belonged to networks of experts on compliance that were able to access the discussions. Others managed to secure participation on government delegations. For example, Gulbrandsen and Andresen (2004: 60) cite the case of Samoa acting as co-chair of the Joint Working Group on Compliance while having a US lawyer from FIELD on its delegation ‘who is said to have played an important role in the compliance negotiations and in the G77 discussions’. The fact that questions of sinks and flexibility mechanisms attracted most attention, at the expense of time on compliance, at least until the final stages of negotiations, provided an opportunity for research-oriented organisations with these types of legal and technical competence. They operated as intellectual leaders as a result of their ability to frame the compliance issue in a novel and constructive way (Gulbrandsen and Andresen 2004: 67). To some extent, this also reflects the sort of division of labour discussed above, allowing CIEL and WWF to focus on these issues, with less involvement from more activist groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. In particular, knowledge gaps on the issue and the lack of priority given to it by most delegations meant that the persistence and experience of these groups was important in forging the compliance regime. In this regard, Gulbrandsen and Andresen (2004: 68) note:

their capacity to influence the way the issue was framed appears to have been quite substantial when compliance was coined in more technical and politically neutral terms in the early phase. As positions polarised towards the end of the negotiations, their influence was substantially reduced.


The vagueness of commitments agreed at the international level leaves enormous scope for national discretion in priority-setting and policy-making. NGOs rely once again on nationally-oriented strategies and networks of influence described above in the subsection on agenda-setting. At this stage of the process they can bear witness to governments’ commitments, engage in whistle-blowing when commitments are being violated and engage in ‘naming and shaming’ strategies to expose those most guilty of failing to implement their commitments. One recent strategy in this respect has centred on shaming parties that buy ‘hot air’ quotas from Russia and other Central and East European countries in order to meet their commitments under Kyoto (Gulbrandsen and Andresen 2004: 70). To dissuade parties from exploiting these loopholes, Greenpeace developed a computer ‘loophole analysis’ which highlights the country-specific consequences of exploiting the loopholes. As noted below, however, despite the efforts of groups such as SinksWatch and CDM Watch, monitoring the multiplicity of private transactions that may be undertaken under the purview of the Clean Development Mechanism and its associated mechanisms presents a formidable task for groups wanting to assess the extent of countries’ commitments to genuine emissions reductions.

Grassroots social movements – most notably on HIV/AIDS – have become increasingly powerful, built largely on their capacity to embarrass and hold governments and international agencies to their account through sophisticated public protest and media strategies. This adept use of communications, combined with excellent advocacy campaigns have transformed networks of people living with HIV/AIDS from the subjects of the response to the pandemic, to agents and strategic shapers of it. In this way, the resources, infrastructure and political commitment galvanised around HIV/AIDS and increasingly other global health issues, such as TB, have increased significantly. The HIV/AIDS global campaign echoed other social movements, for example around debt cancellation, fair trade and against globalisation. This move has coincided with and increasingly been overtaken by the rapid increase in the communicative power of celebrities to shape media and public agendas around issues of concern to civil society. Rock stars such as Sir Bob Geldof and Bono have epitomised the shift in sources of action on development issues, with policy agendas not only represented by but increasingly shaped by figures who have instant access to media. For example, Geldof suggested the establishment of a commission for Africa, prior to the G8 Summit in 2005, and as one of its 17 commissioners, he played a key role in shaping its content. This trend is augmented by massive new resources being made available for development work (particularly in health) from new private foundations and individuals, most notably by Bill Gates. The communicative power of such figures outweighs and exerts more influence over policy than virtually any other development actor, be they implementing agencies, grassroots NGOs or research bodies. In addition, a new generation of US foundations, established by new technology entrepreneurs, such as Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar, are supporting social entrepreneurship and advocacy.

Online public interest journalism is no longer new, with some of the leading online public interest sites demonstrating a capacity to sustain themselves over time, establish a strong brand rooted in public respect and trust and a lasting influence. is an independent investigative journalism site in India, founded in 2000, which has been targeted repeatedly by the authorities and equally repeatedly made mainstream news through its exposés. Malaysiakini, another online political website, attracts 160,000 visitors each day, and is celebrating its eighth birthday despite several attempts by the authorities to close it down, including an incident in 2003 when its offices were raided and 19 computers were confiscated, allegedly for a breach of the country’s Sedition Act. When was founded in 2001, there were fears this respected web-based fora would prove unsustainable; such anxieties have, at least for now, been dispelled.

Where community media has had the opportunity to gain a serious foothold in the broadcast environment, its political and social effects have sometimes been dramatic. Community radio in Nepal, a majority medium reaching nearly 65% of the population, played a central role in mobilising peaceful mass protest against the monarchical dictatorship in the country, and ultimately securing a transition to democracy (see Box 8.1).


Once international meetings actually begin, there is a perception among NGOs that national capitals exercise strong control over the negotiating space of their teams, and that as a result the scope for meaningful shifts in positions during negotiating meetings is often fairly minimal. In addition, NGOs do not have legal rights to formally put items on the agenda. They may be represented at Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings as observers, however, if parties agree, on the proviso that they are qualified in matters covered by the convention. Opportunities to intervene in meetings are normally restricted to opening or closing plenary sessions. NGOs’ ability to make interventions is subject to the discretion of the chairperson of the meeting and ultimately rests with the parties to the Convention. Spaces are provided, nevertheless, for position statements to be heard in the plenary sessions from groups claiming to represent different elements of civil society, such that in the past Climate Action Network has spoken on behalf of assembled NGOs, and the International Chamber of Commerce has made an intervention on behalf of industry.

Agenda setting

Agenda-setting refers to the earliest stages of the policy, when a problem is being defined and policy makers contemplate appropriate and viable courses of action. It is in this context of uncertainty and political turbulence, particularly in the light of a (perceived) crisis or amid high expectations of a policy response, that an opportunity is created for well-thought-through and politically acceptable solutions. When interests are unclear, there is scope for well-organised groups to attempt to define the dimensions of a problem, reflecting of course their own preferences and agendas. They can generate demand for action when policy positions are being developed, when policy responses are being defined, expertise sought and the need for international action discussed. Besides drawing on research and policy advocacy to present scenarios and options and to build the case for a particular course of action, other strategies include drawing attention to work within the scientific community, and operating as knowledge brokers in its translation into popular and politically digestible and palatable forms by working through the media and engaging in popular education. Politically, an important strategy is to help build support for constituencies favouring action within government, where departments may look to other actors to bolster their bureaucratic negotiating position.

At the same time, we have to recognise at the outset that only a fraction of global civil society organisations actively participate in these processes. Southern-based groups are under-represented in international negotiating processes because they lack the resources required to attend and meaningfully participate in international meetings held all around the world which place a high premium on legal, scientific and other forms of expertise that Northern elites tend to have in greater abundance. The international reach of some groups derives from their access to the decision-making process within powerful states. The influence of groups such as Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environmental Defense (ED) on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their ability to change the course of votes in the US Congress have provided key leverage in achieving positive environmental outcomes in the past (O’Brien et al. 2000). At the same time, such leverage ensures the groups voice and influence out of all proportion to the numbers they represent, generating concerns among governments. It accounts for the resistance of some developing country delegates to moves to open up regional and international policy processes to further participation from civil society. The argument is that well-resourced groups have an opportunity both to influence their own government at national level and to make their voice heard regionally – allowing them ‘two bites at the apple –  in a way which is not possible for other less well-resourced groups.

As noted in the introduction to this chapter, despite growing cynicism about the returns from continued engagement with the international negotiations on climate change, many groups remain committed to using those channels available to them to influence the future of the Kyoto Protocol. This choice takes place against a background of growing emphasis under international law, from the Rio declaration to the Aarhus Convention, on the importance of public participation (see Box 3.3). Agenda 21, for example, calls upon intergovernmental organisations to provide regular channels for NGOs ‘to contribute to policy design, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of IGO activities’ (United Nations 1992a).

The international policy process

In order to understand the role of civil society groups in the international negotiations on climate change, a policy cycle is described, from agenda-setting to implementation and enforcement, each stage of which implies a different opportunity structure for NGOs to be able to exert influence. The key dynamic is between policy-making at the national and international levels, although the stages described in practice occur simultaneously and are rarely sequential.

Conclusion: Civil society in the new technological context: the building of autonomy though communication networks

The above cases illustrate the diverse outcomes that the use of communication technologies can mediate. In three of the cases (the Philippines, Korea and Spain) the outcome was substantial in so far as it affected the choice of a government. The fourth process we examined (in the United States) had a limited impact on US politics, and hardly affected the results of the November 2004 presidential election. In the Philippines, wireless communication was employed to oust a sitting president before his term of office ended; in South Korea, the same technologies were used to change the fortunes of a presidential contender who was trailing in the polls. In Spain, text messaging not only was used to galvanise people to vote a government out of power but was also used extensively to supplant, supplement and debunk government propaganda and mainstream media. In the United States text messaging and other wireless technologies were employed (by protesters and police) as efficient tools to coordinate and monitor protest activities during a political convention. Finally, in Japan and China socio-political usage of mobile phones is minimal,despite the rapid diffusion of communications technology in these two countries.

Mobile Communication Without Social Mobilisation: Japan and China

There are other cases where wireless communication was not used for social mobilisation, such as in Japan, or where initial political developments were crushed by the state, such as in China. While our discussion of these two additional cases is less detailed, due to the lack of studies of them, they do demonstrate that, in line with our earlier claim, the particular usage of wireless technologies is shaped by the social context and political structures of a given society.

The Mobilisation around the Republican National Convention in New York

The Republican Party held its 2004 National Convention (RNC) from 30 August to 2 September amid heightened expectations of disturbances caused by anti-Bush activists. The run-up to the New York convention was characterised by reports and rumours of planned and potentially spontaneous protests and of how the police and security agencies were preparing to deal with these incidents (Carpenter 2004; Gibbs 2004; Shachtman 2004; Terdiman 2004). Comparisons were made to the battle of Seattle in 1999, when over 40,000 protesters descended on the city from all over the world to protest against the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO), leading to scenes of violence and contributing to the breakdown of the WTO talks. What was particularly interesting about these reports was that the central role of wireless communication was taken for granted, not just in the protests but in all aspects of the convention. In the event, several (mostly non-violent) protests were indeed coordinated primarily via wireless communication and the internet, leading to over 17,000 arrests. The convention itself was hardly affected by the protests apart from a few minor disruptions. In fact, President Bush experienced a bounce of two percentage points in the polls (among likely voters) after the convention (The Economist 2004; Jones 2004). These events occurred too recently for any judgements to be made about their immediate or long-term impact. Preliminary examination, however, indicates that this was a case where the use of wireless communication technologies served to enhance efficiency but not to effect change.

A parliamentary commission investigating the events of 11–14 March produced evidence that, without necessarily lying, at the very least the PP government had delayed the publication of some critical information, and stated as facts propositions that were still under scrutiny. There was clearly an inclination to favour the hypothesis of Basque terrorism and not to give priority to following the Islamic trail, in spite of the early leads of the police in this direction. But, regardless of the extent of manipulation that actually took place, what counts is that thousands of citizens were convinced on 12 and 13 March that such manipulation was happening, and that they decided to diffuse their views to the entire population through wireless communication and the internet. The main television networks, under the direct or indirect control of the government, were supporting the Basque terrorist hypothesis, as did most of the radio networks (though not the largest one) and most of the print media, after the Prime Minister personally called the editors of the main newspapers and gave them his personal word that the attack was carried out by ETA.

It was at this historic moment of low turnout among young people, when Roh Moo-Hyun lost his second race in the parliamentary election, that Nosamo ( came into being. On 6 June 2000 Nosamo was formed by around 100 founding members who convened in Taejon (Korea Times 2002). While Roh’s campaign team had been actively utilising the new media, Nosamo was a voluntary organisation self-funded by membership fees and only informally affiliated with Roh (Korea Times 2002; see also Rhee 2003: 95). Within five months, its membership had mushroomed: from around 100 to nearly 5,000 in November 2001 (J.-M. Kim 2001: 50), and then, within a year, to 70,000–80,000 by the end of 2002, amounting to a most formidable political force.

Wireless communication and the ‘people who love Roh’ in South Korea

On 19 December 2002, South Korea elected its new president, Roh Moo-Hyun, a major part of whose victory has been widely attributed to Nosamo, an online supporter group known by this Korean acronym of ‘People who Love Roh’. The success of Roh and of Nosamo is now ‘a textbook example for the power of IT’ (Hachigian and Wu 2003: 68), which systematically utilised a combination of the internet and mobile phone-based communication While the internet-based campaign had lasted for years, providing the core political networks, it was the mobile phones that mobilised large number of young voters on the election day and finally reversed the voting result (Fulford 2003; see also S.-D. Kim n.d.; Rhee 2003).

The Philippines: People Power II

In January 2001 thousands of cell-phone touting Filipinos took part in massive demonstrations now dubbed ‘People Power II’ (following the original People Power movement that overthrew Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in 1986). This four-day event has become legendary as the first occasion in human history when the mobile phone played an instrumental role in removing the head of the government of a nation-state (Bagalawis 2001; see also Salterio 2001: 25).

Introduction: civil society and communication technology

The structuring of civil society evolves with its institutional, cultural, and technological context. The more this context maximises the chances of autonomy vis-à-vis the state, the more civil society empowers itself. Interactive electronic communication, and particularly wireless communication, provides a powerful platform for political autonomy on the basis of independent channels of autonomous communication, from person to person, and from group to group. The communication networks that mobile telephony makes possible can be formed and re-formed instantly, and messages are received from a known source, enhancing their credibility. The network logic of the communication process makes it a high-volume communication channel, but with a considerable degree of personalisation and interactivity. In this sense, the wide availability of individually controlled wireless communication effectively bypasses the mass media as a source of information, and creates a new public space.

In the lead-up to the millennium, Kofi Annan floated a proposal to arrange a one-off assembly of civil society representatives to be organised by and held at the United Nations. But even this gesture proved to be too much for several influential governments evidently worried about any further erosion of their traditional roles as exclusive representatives of their citizenry. In the end, a stimulating set of civil society sessions was held at the same time as the Special Millennium Session of the General Assembly, but informally and not in the UN buildings.

Three global civil society initiatives

From the perspective of global civil society, the efforts to date by the UN to accommodate the rise of civil society transnationalism or to move towards the realisation of consensus goals are unsatisfactory (Held 2004). In contrast, a variety of bold proposals, some long supported in civic arenas, are favoured by broad sectors of global civil society. The illustrative articulation of some of the more promising proposals is of substantive interest, as well as expressing the spirit of what might be described as reform-from-below and reform-from-without. We set forth the bare outline of three such proposals. Their concreteness should be interpreted as a disregard of the wider challenge of reconstituting a visionary imaginary for the United Nations that responds to the realities of the early twenty-first century.

In the spirit of Annan’s fork-in-the-road speech, UN reform needed to explore, among other topics, facilitating a better connection between global civil society and the organisation. As mentioned earlier, in 2003 Annan established a so-called Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations under the chairmanship of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Cardoso Panel). The Cardoso Panel report emphasises intangible encouragements to civil society by way of calls on the UN system to consult more with multiple constituencies in addition to governments affected by policy and to establish a spirit of engagement at the level of international institutions and national governments (UN 2004a). Of the 30 proposals set forth in some detail none is of major consequence, although there is a motif of soft advocacy on behalf of greater global civil society participation as integral to a more effective United Nations in the future. The fourth proposal is indicative of the approach taken, geopolitically sceptical while still promoting a more positive future for civil society activities within the frame of the United Nations. The language of the proposal is revealing: ‘The United Nations should retain the global conference mechanism but use it sparingly to address major emerging policy issues’ (emphasis added) in circumstances where public understanding and opinions is important as the basis for ‘concerted global action’. Further, ‘[t]he participation of civil society and other constituencies should be planned in collaboration with their networks’ (UN 2004a). Here the word ‘planned’ acknowledges statist concerns about spontaneous or uncontrolled forms of participation.

The successful movement to establish an International Criminal Court (ICC) is illustrative of a reformist move that came into being, at least formally, outside of these limits on feasibility. William Pace, a leader of the NGO coalition that collaborated with governments in the late 1990s, likes to tell the story that he was advised by many within the UN that the ICC project was impossibly utopian given the firmness of US opposition. In this instance, the mobilisation of global civil society appeared to create a momentum that overcame geopolitical resistance. Of course, the success may be less than meets the eye if the ICC fails to produce significant indictments and prosecutions in coming years. The first real opportunity for the ICC seems likely to arise out of its anticipated role in dealing with allegations of crimes against humanity in the context of the Darfur genocide in Sudan. There are other important indications that civil society initiatives can obtain results despite geopolitical opposition: the separate requests to the International Court of Justice for Advisory Opinions with respect to the legality of nuclear weapons and of the Israeli security wall; the push for a treaty of prohibition on the use of anti-personnel landmines; and widespread adherence to the Kyoto Protocol restricting greenhouse gas emissions. Such successes should not be overstated. A minority of opposing states can still nullify the ‘success’ by refusing to comply with or by simply ignoring the institutional or normative claims. The lesson here is that global civil society, acting in collaboration with sympathetic governments, can pursue reformist projects that stretch, if not break free of, the geopolitical limits on political action, and that such action is an indispensable contribution to the global reform process, within and without the United Nations.

At the same time, the most direct and characteristic UN-related projects of civil society are associated with vertical reforms, taking greater account of actors other than states and recognising transnational social forces whose prominence and role exhibit the growing obsolescence of any system of global governance that relies exclusively on a Westphalian conception of world order. The remainder of this chapter is mainly devoted to exploring this vertical approach to UN reform, but it pays some attention to the proposed direction of horizontal reforms touching on the interests of global civil society, especially as affected by the proposed recommendations of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Security. It is also the case that there is often an interplay between global civil society initiatives of a horizontal character and changing perspectives of the United Nations, even in the most recalcitrant context of peace and security. An important illustration of this hybridity arises in relation to the debate on humanitarian intervention that became so significant in the 1990s, especially in light of controversies surrounding the UN responses and non-responses to Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo. At the instigation of the Canadian government, a commission of eminent persons was formed under the chairmanship of Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun, which produced a report under the title The Responsibility to Protect that essentially staked out ground that has emerged as a consensus among members of the United Nations (International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty 2001). The essential move in the report was to shift the language from that of ‘humanitarian intervention’, always threatening to the prerogatives of governments, to that of ‘a responsibility to protect’ on the part of international society those peoples who are vulnerable to an impending humanitarian catastrophe. By situating this duty to act within the international community, the report also moved on to positive ground rather than challenging so frontally the totemic ideal of territorial sovereignty. Beyond this, an independent commission of private individuals (although with strong public credentials) is definitely an example of a vertical undertaking reshaping the diplomacy, and quite likely the behaviour, of horizontal interactions among the membership of the United Nations.

A second example of de facto reform is the significant development of coercive peacemaking under Chapter VI of the UN Charter during the tenure of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in the 1960s, described at the time as an ‘innovation’ neither prescribed nor proscribed by the Charter, but useful in dealing with situations other than war-making, addressed in Chapter VII, that called for UN peacekeeping. A third example of increasing importance since the end of the cold war is the narrowing of the significance and scope of the prohibition on the UN in Article 2(7) of the Charter to refrain from intervention ‘in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state’. Such a strict conception of Westphalian deference to territorial sovereignty reflected the ethos of 1945, but as civil wars became internationalised and as acute violations of human rights, particularly ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide, became challenges to the organised international community, the UN norm of non-intervention was gradually qualified. This process reached a climax in the period after the Kosovo War in 1999, and produced a doctrine of humanitarian intervention rationalized as ‘a responsibility to protect’ (Independent International Commission on Kosovo, 2000: 163–8).

It was only, however, with the onset of global conferences on policy issues, pioneered and prefigured by the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1971, that the UN became a major arena for transnational civil forces, both as a source of pressure exerted on intergovernmental activities and as an occasion for transnational civil society networking and organising. Unlike the earlier low-profile roles intended to hide the influence of the NGOs in intergovernmental negotiations, here the intention was primarily to exert highly visible influence on the most powerful states and to gain attention for dissident views in the global media assembled to cover the event, although the supportive NGO roles of providing information and analysing policy options continued to be an invaluable equaliser on such occasions. This dynamic reached a climax in the 1990s with a series of high-profile UN conferences that featured strong and vivid participation by civil society actors, and the early articulation by commentators on the international scene of the presence of new political formation identified as ‘global civil society’ (Pianta 2001; Box 5.1). The very success of this informal penetration of UN processes induced a backlash on the part of several leading governments that sensed a loss of control by states of the policy-forming process, which made the holding of such conferences politically difficult. Representatives of large states described these conferences as ‘spectacles’ and as ‘a waste of money and time’, but the real objection was their showcasing of the vitality of civil society actors and networks that so often put governments on the defensive with respect to global policy debates. In effect, civil society actors were creative in their discovery of ways to make effective use of the United Nations to promote their aspirations, but the statist and geopolitical structuring of influence at the UN, which endures, also displayed its capacity to hit back, to control the purse strings of global diplomacy, and essentially to shut the off these informal, yet effective, channels of civil society access with respect to global policy formation on major issues.

There are also a large number of civil society actors around the world with issue-oriented agendas, especially in relation to environment and human rights. These actors make use of the United Nations to the extent relevant to their substantive preoccupations. EarthAction, World Wide Fund for Nature, and Greenpeace are environmental NGOs that push their causes at the UN whenever it seems useful. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International do the same with respect to human rights. One of the oldest and most widely respected organisations, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), has been active especially at the Geneva end of UN operations, but also in UN conferences around the world, particularly if the subject matter bears on feminist concerns or disarmament. WILPF has a civil society presence and possesses a strong internationalist identity that long antedates the establishment of the United Nations. The role and activism of WILPF prefigures in many respects the emergent reality of global civil society.

Of course, among supporters of the UN there are also crucial divisions among liberals, Third World advocates, and radical transformers. The liberal position, typified by most national chapters of the United Nations Association, draws heavily on the leadership of internationally minded establishment figures, especially former diplomats, and seeks to reconcile an important role for the United Nations with a pragmatic understanding of world politics, which includes an acceptance of the special influence of leading states within and outside the organisation that trumps the sovereignty mantra of ‘the equality of states’. The Third World outlook, which may be grasped by reference to the activities and policy prescriptions of the Third World Network, pays less attention to the UN as a whole than to the policies and role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, as well as to the development dialogue and debate about world economic policy that goes on within the General Assembly and elsewhere in the United Nations. And then there are radical peace groups, possibly best illustrated by Tavola Della Pace, which perceive the United Nations as currently dominated by geopolitics and the manipulations of Washington and Davos. Such groups seek to shift control over UN operations with respect to such issues as war and peace, self-determination (for the Palestinians, for example), and development from the dominant states to popular democratic forces and to the guidance of the rule of law and the dictates of global equity; just such a shift is the goal of their campaign provocatively called Reclaiming the United Nations. Tavola Della Pace also organised every second year in Perugia ‘A United Nations of the Peoples’ that gives voice to grass-roots views on global issues from NGO representatives and citizens from around the world, a contrasting atmosphere and agenda to the statist show put on at UN headquarters in New York City, or even Geneva.

Media and the expansion of the public sphere

During the last two decades, for much of humanity, the public sphere has expanded substantially and the capacity to contribute to public debate increased. Three main trends have shaped this expansion of the public sphere: first, the wave of media liberalisation that, as part of broader democratic reform movements, swept much of the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall; second, the transformative changes wrought by new technologies; and third, how advocacy and the effective use of communicative power is increasing the pressure for social justice.

Airlines that fly deported people home are also targeted by the No border network, via its spoof discount airline website No One is Illegal UK (URL) campaigns against what it calls the ‘new gulag archipelago’ – detention camps on EU borders – which it sees as part of the managed migration system it abhors: ‘We support the unfettered right of entry of the feckless, the unemployable and the uncultured. We assert No One is Illegal.’ The groups cited above were among those taking part in the European Day of Action on 2 April 2005, which saw demonstrations in several cities, including London, Athens, Vienna, Paris and Helsinki (Global Project URL).

In sending countries, there are migrants’ rights groups that fall into the Reformers category as well. Brazil’s Servico Pastoral dos Migrantes (SPM URL) holds an annual forum, as part of the Bishops’ National Conference, to promote respect for migrants’ rights and raise awareness about the challenges they face. At a social forum on migration held in January 2005, a few days before the fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, 600 participants from 35 countries discussed the notion of ‘universal citizenship’ and how migrants might use it to stand up for their rights (SPM 2005).

Their objective was to provide a first answer to widespread aspirations that, if not taken into account, will progressively empty the WSFs of their most active members. One must be aware that this process has already begun, at both the European and the global levels, where several organisations feel that they are wasting their time and limited financial resources in repetitive discussions. Activists are no longer satisfied with mere debate. They want to move on to action in order to change the world, with a certain number of shared objectives. The body of proposals resulting from past Forums is extensive enough to draft largely consensual platforms and challenge political parties, governments and multilateral organisations. While this first Manifesto is not frozen, and remains open to amendments, it does represent a starting point.

The decision not to hold a full-scale WSF annual meeting in 2006 is not only due to the need to allow Africa to prepare itself to host it in 2007. It has also to do with the fact that, even though it has been partly revamped in 2005 at Porto Alegre, notably by taking the demands and priorities of social grass-roots movements more into account when drafting the programme, the original format inaugurated in 2001 has somewhat run out of steam. The question constantly asked by delegates and observers is: what are the main conclusions of these global or European meetings, and what can they lead to in concrete terms? Several possible and different indicators can be used to measure the success they have had so far.

The dates selected for the Venezuela meeting parallel those of the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) so as to prevent world leaders from marking the beginning of each year by dominating the media’s agenda with the unchallenged expression of their vision for the planet’s future. Past experience has shown that the simultaneity of these two events is an important asset. This had been acknowledged by Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the WEF who, addressing journalists in Buenos Aires on 21 March 2001 (two months after the first WSF), argued that the World Social Forum had affected the WEF’s reputation in a negative way: ‘Very smartly, place your name next to another, globally known one, and you become famous.’ In other words, Schwab’s statement was effectively saying, ‘Without Davos, nobody would have ever heard of Porto Alegre.’ While this claim is certainly exaggerated, one has to recognise that we have indeed been able to make the most out of the concurrence of these two events.

Bernard Cassen

Unlike with the four editions held in Porto Alegre, Brazil and the 2004 sessions in Mumbai, India, the World Social Forum will not convene in a single annual meeting in 2006. While a sixth annual Forum will be held in Africa in 2007, the WSF International Council unanimously agreed to hold meetings in several countries in 2006. Such gatherings will fit into the broader framework of a ‘Polycentric World Social Forum’. The most important one will be held in Caracas, 24–29 January. This event will also serve as the second edition of the Social Forum of the Americas.


The WSF is a power space. The opposite claim – that the WSF is a totally open space, with no centre and no hierarchies, and potentially all-inclusive (within the limits set by the Charter of Principles) – seems be a bit far-fetched. It is true that many of the concrete limits of inclusion are not the responsibility of the organisers. Nonetheless, crucial organisational options are decided by the IS and by the IC, and they condition the types of events that will take place, the themes that will be discussed and the ambit of the discussion. It is, therefore, wise to recognise the existence of power relations and submit them to the same criteria we want to see applied in society at large: transparency in the operation of such relations and their submission to the mechanisms of participatory democracy. Herein lies the new strength of the WSF, a strength that is necessary to confront the new challenges as the WSF moves to ever more efficient ways of making the world less and less comfortable for neoliberal globalisation, that is, for global capitalism as we know it.

To manifest or not to manifest?

The idea of drafting a document that would synthesise the major points of agreement among the movements and NGOs participating in the WSF dates back to the second edition of the WSF, in 2002. Impressed by the enthusiasm with which so many organisations across the world responded to the call of the WSF and the atmosphere of general consensus on major global issues expressed in so many meetings convened by so many different organisations, some intellectual-activists started discussing the idea of putting together the main points of agreement in a document. The document would have the twofold purpose of providing the participants with an overview of the diversity of the WSF and showing to the outside world that such diversity was neither chaotic nor devoid of concrete orientations for collective global action. The success of the third WSF (2003) was interpreted as providing further justification for the idea of a document in light of the immense range of topics discussed and the generalised view that the lively debates were not being used to generate concrete proposals for action against neoliberal globalisation. In the WSF held in Mumbai, Bernard Cassen, founder of ATTAC, was particularly insistent on the idea that the growing strength of the WSF demanded that the alternative provided by the WSF to the World Economic Forum of Davos be sharpened and made visible worldwide. If the WEF had been for many years the think tank of hegemonic globalisation and the legitimating amplifier for the Washington Consensus, the WSF should present itself to the world as being the major manifestation of a counter-hegemonic globalisation and the bearer of an alternative global consensus, the Consensus of Porto Alegre. How to accomplish this, having in mind the informal and horizontal structure of the WSF and the terms of the Charter of Principles? The idea of a manifesto of the WSF was ruled out by the Charter. The Charter, however, did not prevent the participants from drafting manifestos and from presenting them as expressing the political will of the signers. The political weight of the manifesto would depend on the number of participants willing to sign it. The Manifesto was finally drafted during the fifth WSF, signed by 19 well-known participants, and presented to the media outside the World Social Territory (the grounds where the WSF was convened) as a document opened to the subscription of all participants in the WSF. The focus of the document was on concrete proposals, ‘twelve proposals for another possible world’.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos


In order to understand the debates that take place within the World Social Forum (WSF), it is necessary to analyse the ways in which at the beginning of the twenty-first century utopian thinking interacts with political activism. In my conception, ‘utopia’ means exploring new modes of human possibility and styles of will, and using the imagination to confront the apparent inevitability of whatever exists with something radically better that is worth fighting for, and to which humankind is fully entitled (see Santos 1995: 479). The conceptions of and aspirations to a better life and society, ever present in human history, vary in their form and content over time and space. They express the tendencies and latencies of a given epoch and a given society. They constitute an anticipatory consciousness that manifests itself by enlarging the signs or traces of emerging realities.

The system would function independently of the Forum events, but would be interconnected with them because the Forums would figure as special opportunities for in-person encounters and for furthering understanding and action, and thus would foster quality leaps in the effectiveness of any action proposed. Set free of the events themselves, the World Social Forum process would advance much more quickly in building an ever larger number of local, national, regional and world networks, thus empowering global civil society to achieve concrete objectives in changing the world.

In practice, some of the groups organising Forums do treat the Charter more flexibly, without much concern for the consequences. Only the World Forums held so far have strictly abided by the Charter of Principles; the same cannot be said of all the regional, national or local forums. There are cases, for example, of forums that have ended with final documents, been presented as organisations, and had spokespeople or coordinators. Others are not really ‘open spaces’ but rather events taken over by particular political forces. Others are organised from the top down only, as if they were seminars. One of the most flagrant cases of breach of the Charter had to do precisely with party and government participation. According to the reports of participants, the Socialist Workers’ Party and Ken Livingston, Mayor of London, played central roles in the organisation of the European Social Forum held in London in March 2005.

Like a square, the Forum is an open space, as specified in the Charter of Principles. But unlike a public square it is not a neutral space. The Forum opens up from time to time in different parts of the world with one key objective: to allow as many people, organisations and movements as possible that oppose neo-liberalism to get together freely, listen to each other, to learn from the experiences and struggles of others, to discuss proposals for action and to become linked to new networks and organisations that aim to challenge the present process of globalisation dominated by large international corporations and financial interests. Thus, it is a space created to serve the common aim of all those who converge on the Forum, and it functions horizontally like a public square, without leaders or pyramids of power. All those who come to the Forum accept this, and participants are therefore required to agree to abide by the Charter of Principles.

Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the success of these demonstrations, some would have preferred to mobilise through a call from the Forum as a way of introducing and reinforcing the forums as a new political actor, with its own initiatives. This points to an important, and perhaps the main, question about the nature of the Forum that is continuously debated: is it a space or a movement? How we answer this question will determine the organisation and process of the forums, as well as their future. I have discussed previously, in an article that appears in several publications, why the ‘space’ conception is preferable to that of a movement, and how some were trying to imbue the Forum with the characteristics of a movement.

The Forum’s Charter of Principles

Immediately following the success of the first Forum, its organisers drafted a Charter of Principles (WSF 2001; see also Box 6.1), explicitly adopting horizontal relationships. Believing that these relationships were the key to the success of the first Forum, the organisers wanted to ensure that such experimentation would continue and be extended to other events held at the world or the regional level. The Charter embodies a set of guidelines completely at variance with current political practices, such as not drawing up final documents at the forums, guaranteeing that participants would be completely at liberty to organise their own activities at these events, pledging that the organisers would not direct such activities or any collaboration among them, and not designating spokespeople or representatives of the Forum.

In fact, experimentation of this kind – which is essentially participatory in nature – is not new. It reinstates the teachings of a tradition of social struggle worldwide against authoritarianism of various kinds, starting with the mobilisations of 1968. In the decades that followed, networks were proposed and consolidated as a different organisational structure in many political undertakings that innovated ways of waging political struggles. For instance, some invented a collegiate structure of direction. The landmark event in this process took place at the end of the twentieth century during the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Seattle – and thus well before the first World Social Forum. These protests were of such proportions and so effective in blocking the anti-democratic measures planned for the occasion by the WTO that they surprised even those who – in their enormous diversity of immediate aims – had thrown themselves into the effort.

Chico Whitaker


Where does the World Social Forum (WSF URL) process stand today? After the success of the 2005 event, which drew 150,000 participants to Porto Alegre, many of those engaged in organising forums are worried. Where is this process heading? What is the WSF actually intended to achieve? How effective is it in promoting the necessary political changes? Is it running out of steam? Is it not at risk of causing a great deal of frustration – with all the accompanying ill effects – by announcing that ‘Another World Is Possible’ and thus raising expectations that are difficult to meet given the resurgence of wars and terrorism and the increasingly visible likelihood of irreversible ecological disasters?

This chapter seeks to portray different perspectives on the nature, evolution and future of the World Social Forum. We invited contributions from three people who have played a significant role in the origins and development of the World Social Forum. Their contributions are timely: the Porto Alegre Manifesto, a platform of proposals launched at the 5thh World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2005, sparked a debate that we would like to continue in the Global Civil Society Yearbook. Key issues include the appropriateness of such a manifesto and its implications for the nature of the World Social Forum, including, for example, the discussion about whether it is a space for debate or a campaigning movement.

Glasius and Timms, in their chapter on social forums, come to rather different conclusions. The decision to hold the first World Social Forum in Brazil (albeit in the relatively wealthy south of the country) was a conscious attempt to get away from the self-reinforcing dynamic described by Katz and Anheier. Social forums have since organised primarily around a South-American/European axis, more recently and more problematically also including the Indian subcontinent and Africa (see Glasius and Timms, Chapter 6). Europe is undoubtedly still over-represented, but social forum organisation in North America is very weak. But beyond the geography of the social forums, the most important thing about them from a global civil society infrastructure perspective is the way they have focused on horizontal networking across cultures and issues, and experimenting with participatory forms of organising, as values in themselves.

At the World Social Forum, where the interest in international institutions has steadily risen (see Marlies Glasius and Jill Timms, Chapter 6), the 2005 seminars on UN reform have generated a network backed by 140 organisations and a host of global celebrities. An appeal, again in the name of ‘we the people’, calls for ‘a constituent process involving all possible actors in civil society, local authorities and parliaments. Priority must be given to ensure due representation of region, race, class, gender and all social pluralities in this process’. A ‘Global Day of Mobilisation For a New World Order Against Poverty, War and Unilateralism’ has been proclaimed for 10 September (September 10 url). But the details of the proposed reforms are not (yet?) worked out.

In both the Ukrainian and the Lebanese revolutions, text messaging again played an important role in mobilising especially young people (Koprowski 2004; Quilty 2005). There seems to be clear evidence of transnational contagion and imitation in these ‘colour-coordinated’ revolutions. While the Ukrainian revolution looked the most heroic in braving the bitter cold, the Lebanese one put on the best display:

Pieces of cardboard (coloured red, white or green on one side and black on the other) were distributed to the 10,000 people assembled in the adjacent Martyrs’ Square. On cue, the demonstrators flipped their cardboard to form a 3,800-square-metre flag (when the speaker demanded to know the truth about Hariri’s killing) or a black rectangle of the same size (in reference to the opposition’s enemies). (Quilty 2005)

Chapter 8, by Castells et al., brings out how these forms of mobilisation are different from older forms of national mobilisation. First, and most eye-catchingly, there is the use of new information and communications technology (ICT). Where earlier work by Castells and others has concentrated on the transformative features of  the internet, this introduction focuses on mobilisation by mobile phone. Like the internet, it can have the function of breaking into information oligarchies. New ICTs became so important in the Korean, the Spanish, and perhaps also the Philippine cases because the old media was, for whatever reason, on the side of the establishment. But the speed with which mobile phones can spread information greatly surpasses that of the internet, although, as the authors point out, texting is great for mobilisation but much less so for deliberation.

Finally, global civil society is uneven and unequal in the gendering of risk perceptions. As Jude Howell shows in Chapter 1, the gendered nature of global civil society is ambiguous. On the one hand, civil society may be a sphere more permeable to women than the market and the state due to its roots in charity and voluntarism. On the other hand, civil society is seen by some feminists as a ‘public’ and hence historically exclusively male domain. As Howell points out, the theorists and activists who reinvigorated the concept did not problematise this heritage. Hence, risk framing in global civil society is likely to be male-dominated. Despite the campaigns on violence against women, a universal but ‘private’ risk such as rape is not likely to get the same consideration as climate change or terrorism.

The precautionary principle, whose goal as a policy blueprint was to help manage risk, had a number of effects that went beyond the purpose of specific policies. It changed the relationships among stakeholders, including the general public, bringing about a new politics of risk management at the national and increasingly the regional and global levels. Importantly, it paved the way for civil society organisations to assume a greater role in the identification, handling and oversight of risk-related aspects of policy concerns such as the environment, human rights, industrial safety or transnational crime.

Citizen participation, civic culture and substantive democracy

In complex systems, order is not imposed from the top down by a centre of command and control. Neither does social change occur according to uniform and pre-established strategies. Change is an ongoing process that occurs simultaneously at multiple points. Personal freedom and technological innovation release creative social energy. Pioneering actions, innovative experiences, exemplary projects and unexpected interactions take many shapes, flow along multiple pathways and radiate at great speed. These decentralised initiatives produce an impact on the system as a whole, generating a critical mass of new ideas, messages, proposals, knowledge and experiences. Connectors and communicators amplify and re-transmit these innovations in a continuous dynamic of experimentation, learning, feedback, reorganisation and expansion. Power is moving from the centre to the periphery, from vertical command and control structures to horizontal networks and collaborative platforms. Communication is, increasingly, participative, interactive and collaborative.

The Internet and other new technologies

The Internet has provided an unprecedented space for dissent for civil society and a dilemma for rulers. As Taubmann says: ‘efforts to sanitize the Internet are hampered by the fact that the features of the Internet that cause problems for nondemocratic rulers are the same features that make the technology so attractive’ (1998: 256) and, one might add, necessary in order to participate in the global economy. (See Box 5.3 for an exploration of efforts to control the Internet).

Like their democratic counterparts, illiberal states have understood the need to change and adapt in the face of globalisation. It is possible to distinguish three main forms of control exterted by the state. The first is administrative, the exercise of the rule of law and/or repression. While repressive regimes can and do imprison political dissident and use torture and other inhumane treatments, it can be argued that physical repression is less effective than in the past, partly because of the difficulty of controlling the spread of weapons or knowledge of bomb-making, and partly because of international pressure. To an increasing extent, the implementation of a rule of law or of administrative measures depends on consent. The second is economic. Totalitarian or sultanistic regimes exercised total control over the economy. Today, economic control is exerted through patronage, for example, through oil rents, as in the majority of authoritarian regimes, or through predation, as in Zimbabwe. The growth of global markets, such as China’s, creates autonomous economic spaces that require a political response lest they open the floodgates for freedom, as happened in the former Soviet Union. The third form of control is through communication or, as Joseph Nye puts it, soft power (2004). In the global era, this may be the most critical form of control. New forms of communication such as the Internet and the electronic media are inherently global, and these connections can help and hinder illiberal regimes in promoting their ideology.

Illiberal regimes have found themselves affected both by progressive and regressive globalisation. Commonly, when we think about globalisation and democratisation, the focus has been on the impact on norms and human rights, which was so important in Latin America and Communist Europe (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Kaldor 2003). Schmitter has pointed out that ‘this world beneath and beyond the nation state has played an especially significant role in the international promotion of democracy’ (1996: 29). And even today, under the global gaze and pressure put by human rights activists, illiberal regimes have sometimes been forced to give in, and, for example, free political prisoners, as is happening now in China (see Box 5.1).

Such versatility and experimentation become necessary qualities for global civil society as it copes with media transformations. To innovate effectively and circumvent existing barriers to entry in the market for loyalties, global civil society must creatively use new communications technologies, as well as heritage technologies. Audio-cassettes provided a means of entry for unpopular ideas to an otherwise closed market in Iran. An analysis by Ian Liston-Smith for BBC Monitoring (Liston-Smith 2006) addresses modes by which, in Africa, the introduction of mobile phone networks suggested new possibilities for receiving news unavailable via local media and helping coordinate activism by human rights and social justice organisations. SW Radio Africa employed mobile phone text messaging to overcome the blockage of news by the government of Zimbabwe; a station operated by a London-based group of Zimbabwean exiles was routinely jammed by the Zimbabwean authorities but they circumvented the barrier by text service. NGOs also used mobile phones more frequently for delivery of information.

The Olympic Games, and in particular the 2008 Olympics, are an important example of this phenomenon, offering opportunities for alliances among disparate groups that make up global civil society to alter allegiances. China is using the Games to influence public opinion at home and abroad; at the same time, environmental and human rights groups, both inside China and internationally, are using the occasion to alter this official representation (and, as a result, policies in China).

As civil society groups think more and more about how globalisation affects their speech-related needs, they support changes in the infrastructure of communications that permit greater ease of multi-site access. Intermediaries begin to foster and advocate, often under neutral auspices, policy structures that permit global advocates to be more effective in achieving their goals. Obviously, the new sellers favour a multichannel universe, one that expands the numbers of platforms locally because of altered technologies (such as satellite to home and satellite to cable). Over time, and accelerating with the arrival of satellite broadcasting, new technologies empower transnational sellers in the market for loyalties to reach domestic buyers. The globalisation of the media alters the locus and operation of the market for loyalties. Openness is expanded: old vehicles become more attuned to the opportunities available to the transnationalised civil society players and new vehicles are created to deliver a broader message. From a Western standpoint, the expansion of the BBC World Service, the support of, the entry of France 24 and new uses of digital public broadcasting channels in Europe and globally are examples of such new entrants as vehicles for delivery. But channels to reach diasporic communities in Europe count here as well. These vehicles complicate the task of domestic gatekeepers and challenge government controls on the gatekeeper. Entities outside the state, such as multinational corporations, other states and identity-related groups, also participate in the market for loyalties when they advocate the use of technology or the adoption of international norms that would facilitate or require the expansion of members in the cartel of ideological or identity presenters. An example of this is the Kurdish diaspora’s efforts to pressure Turkey for increased respect for human rights and the protection of minorities through the EU as a condition of its accession the EU (Eccarious-Kelly 2002; European Commission 2005).

Historically, rules, practices and other decisions, both legitimate and arbitrary, and often arguments based on scarcity, have blocked avenues for certain civil society groups (both homegrown and foreign) in specific markets for loyalties. In particular, access by controversial civil society groups to platforms presented by traditional media has often been made difficult, if not impossible. Important advocates in global civil society will often hold views that are unpopular in the target society they are trying to penetrate. Those in authority will (and in some instances should) characterise those views as undermining national security or identity, as opposed to longstanding and significant cultural norms, and as inconsistent with the views of dominant economic and political actors. Indeed, the very motive for organising transnationally may be to alter attitudes among specific publics. Transnational sellers, linked to minority local counterparts, often argue for ethical and legal outcomes that deserve to be heard but are out of synch with prevailing mores. In this context, global strategies can offer what Keck and Sikkink describe as a ‘boomerang effect,’ allowing groups to circumvent domestic indifference or pressure by transferring debate to the international level (Keck and Sikkink 1998: 12; Della Porta and Tarrow 2004). Positing this kind of restricted market and suggesting these limitations on some players only raises the questions of what techniques are available to civil society groups that wish to expand their capacity to reach audiences globally: what they do, in fact, to break cartels or otherwise increase their capacity to be effective.

Laws are made at the national level, but norms and pressures increasingly come from the global. Tacit or explicit arrangements among states, or between states and multinational corporations or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) may be designed to affect the nature of a global market in cultural and political attitudes and facilitate the predominance of one ideology over another. Thus, while the apparent determinant of the relationship between regulation and control remains the nation state, communication avenues in any given state are increasingly a matter of international action or pressure, justified under the aegis, for example, of stability, trade or human rights.

It is relevant that the market for allegiances is not a zero sum game. The buyer can absorb many loyalties with differing intensities. He or she can be loyal to the King, increasingly believe in democratic values, be a devout Muslim, wear blue jeans and love consumer culture. The issue here is not how the messages are received and gain adherence, but rather what steps are taken so that audiences have access. Guobin Yang, using Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s analysis (Keck and Sikkink 1998), argues, ‘in information politics, advocacy networks generate politically usable information and move it to where it will have the most impact’ (Yang 2006). It is that effort to shift and achieve platforms for usable information that is the essence of the growth at the global level of this competition by civil society organisations.

When we shift from a focus on the state to the transnational, the question of how civil society engages with domestic and international systems emerges more clearly. We must ask how access to previously excluded spaces is achieved by global civil society organisations and movements. Specifically, what do these groups do, in fact, to break cartels or otherwise increase their capacity to be effective, and how do states and cartels respond? Put differently, how do such groups invoke laws (even if not authoring them), deploy useful new technologies (even if not controlling them) and muster force (even if it is outside their direct capacity)?

A contemporary example of this phenomenon is the slow rate of diffusion in the US of Al Jazeera English (the counterpart to the original Al Jazeera channel), which was launched in November 2006. Although the broadcaster is, strictly speaking, not a civil society organisation, it is a platform for those, including civil society players, who seek to influence political attitudes and shape public opinion. In the US Al Jazeera English has encountered enormous difficulty in being carried by cable providers, and is currently only available through satellite TV and the Internet. In Canada, the 2004 Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruling that approved the carriage of the Arabic-language Al Jazeera placed onerous and exceptional conditions on the privilege of cable television systems to carry it (CRTC 2004). A market for loyalties analysis would ask what formal and informal efforts restricted pathways open to such a channel.

Some version of this market, I contended, has existed everywhere and at all times. What differs in today’s market is the range of participants, the scope of boundaries of relevant markets and the limitations on the regulatory bodies capable of establishing and enforcing rules for participation and exclusion. The question for this chapter is how to define a global version of such a market and the role of civil society players within it. Put differently, one may ask how a new array of global voices and forces seeks to arrange or manipulate law and technology so that their messages can reach target audiences and have a competitive edge.

The typical approach of Western activists was to support local civil society groups – the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, human rights groups in Latin America, groups like Solidarity or Charter 77 in Central Europe – both morally and materially, helping with literature and campaign materials, publicising their cause, protecting local dissidents through public disclosure, demonstrating or travelling to the region in solidarity. The debates with local groups led to the development of joint strategies including pressure on Western governments to use various instruments to oppose repression and dictatorship. Hence the sanctions on South Africa, the human rights legislation introduced in Congress in relation to Latin America, and the insistence on respect for the Helsinki Final Act in Europe. These were all examples of what Keck and Sikkink (1998) call the ‘boomerang effect’.

Without some mass system of communication, only relatively small attention aggregates could ever form around particular objects, events, or issues. The broader the reach of media systems, the larger the potential scale of attention and interest aggregation. The more interactive and conversational the system, the greater its potential to facilitate interest aggregates that begin to talk, to form and to exchange opinions, that is, to form publics in the sense outlined above. The global reach and conversational capacities of contemporary media systems should, at least in theory, foster international or global public awareness, opinion formation and political participation – just as Cooley proposed a hundred years ago.

Fourth, the discourse of civil society has been appropriated across the ideological spectrum to propel particular political agendas and positions. Feminists need to be particularly cautious when the language of civil society is used in debates about state deregulation, user choice and community provision of welfare services. There is the danger that the language of civil society and related concepts of community and social capital becomes an ideological device for justifying a particular vision of the state, which entails the return of welfare services to the family, and in practice to the unpaid and undervalued female carer.

But the ideal has not only inspired cyberspace. The opening phrases of the World Social Forum Charter, now adopted by hundreds of regional, national and local social forums, could have been written by Habermas or Benhabib themselves. According to the Charter, a social forum ‘is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences’ etc. As the social forums chapter in Global Civil Society 2005/6 put it, they ‘give rise to uneven attempts to practise politics in horizontal, network-based ways that are meant to be more participatory and democratic than conventional structures’ (Glasius and Timms, 2006: 190). Six years on from the first World Social Forum, our data suggest that the majority of social forums tend to survive, and new ones continue to be founded. Deliberative democracy has flown off the pages of the theorists’ scholarly works and become a real-life aspiration for civil society activists.

The new social movements of the 1970s already showed some affinity with this ideal, causing Habermas to revise his view of the public sphere from something once briefly glimpsed in the Enlightenment that could never return, to a ‘less pessimistic assessment’ of an ideal for which one could strive in practice (1992: 457). Since then, the newer global movements that have emerged have even more explicitly sought their salvation in an alternative politics of communication. The ‘hacker ethic’ of the first generation of computer geeks launched a wholesale attack on the foundations of modernity: the work ethic, the notion of private property, and command-and-control structures of governance (Himanen 2001). But the most enduring characteristic of that ethic has been the emphasis on ‘open access’ and free flows of information and communication, which has to date determined the architecture of the Internet. Beside this paramount achievement, the broad movement has spawned numerous other civil society initiatives built on the same norms, including the early email networks, the free software and open source movements, the Indymedia centres, Wikipedia. These are all expressions of, and contributions to, ‘an emerging techno-political ethos’ (Juris 2005) in global civil society. This ethos has now spread far beyond the original western left-wing hacktivists: Box I.2 describes how the resistance of a single couple of Chinese home-owners to the property developers became a cause celebre by moving from the blogosphere into the Chinese and Western mainstream media.

On the other hand Dewey, in spite of his nostalgic communitarianism, in our time of digital, interactive, Internet-based technology seems to speak as the animating spirit of civil-society led global communication. His local community was not cut off from the wider world by national boundaries. It was to be the vital node for transmitting democratic values. Anticipating Habermas, he declared ’The Great Community in the sense of free and full intercommunication’ will only work through trans-local associations that feed into the intimate unions. ‘Democracy must begin at home’ (1927: 367-8). ‘Fraternity, liberty and equality isolated from communal life are hopeless abstractions’ (1927: 329).

At the same time globality does not merely undermine liberal democracy in nation states. Kaldor and Kostovica in Chapter 5 show how illiberal regimes are equally vulnerable to global connections. In their responses to the pressures of globalisation, most of these regimes have moved far away from the monolithic Orwellian ideal type. Instead of aspiring to eliminate civil society and monopolise communication, which is simply no longer possible, they tolerate some forms of civil society organisation as well as some forms of transnational communication. They either try to contain and control civil society, relegating it to the role of social policy sub-contractor, or found their own organisations, but without the old aspiration to a complete monopoly. In the realm of communications, Iran, Saudi Arabia or China now try to ‘get the message out’, becoming, in Monroe Price’s term, sellers in the market for loyalties (see Chapter 3). These changed parameters may also have consequences for the old debate as to whether to isolate or engage rogue states. The 2008 Beijing Olympics, for instance, has become an occasion for bringing attention to a plethora of human rights violating aspects of Chinese domestic and foreign policy (see Box 5.1 in Chapter 5).

But globalisation does not only take the form of enforced integration into Western governmental models. Even before the 1990s when Richard Falk (1993) gave recognition to globalisation from below, there were plenty of empirical examples of democratisation as the result of successful efforts of social movements in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South Africa building transnational links and appealing to transnational norms in order to defeat the authoritarian state (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Kaldor 2003; Glasius 2003). This volume provides an example of those transitions: in Chapter 6 Darcy de Oliveira’s charts the transformation in Latin America where NGOs and social movements spearheaded the struggle for democracy in the 1970s and 1980s, but where now the vitality of what he calls the ‘classical notion of civil society’, its organised form, has declined. But they have left a legacy of democratisation at the very personal level: ‘ordinary people tend, today, to be more ‘intelligent’, ‘rebellious’ and ‘creative’ than in the past insofar as they are constantly called upon to make value judgments and life choices where previously there was only conformity to a pre-established destiny. This enhanced capacity of individuals to think, deliberate and decide is a consequence of the decline in diverse forms of authority based on religion and tradition. As he says, ‘democracy is always work in progress, an unfinished journey.’