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.

Brick walls: the unconverted

The United States, historically one of the staunchest opponents of economic and social rights, remains one of a handful of states that has not ratified the Covenant, on the basis that ‘these are not rights but aspirations’. Under the Bush Administration, any specific objections to economic and social rights have become rather obscured by its record on civil and political rights, particularly in relation to ‘the war on terror’. But domestically in the United States, economic and social rights are gaining friends and prominence, against relatively little resistance, as they have elsewhere. A new human rights coalition founded in 2003, whose members range from international groups like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and CESR to major domestic groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Friends Service Committee, has the advancement of economic and social rights as one of its core principles (Lobe 2003). Grassroots groups such as the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (URL), an organisation of the homeless, and the affiliated University of the Poor (URL), are also using economic and social rights language and making transnational connections.

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).

In India, the Supreme Court has long since established that the right to life protected by the Constitution incorporates aspects of the rights to food and health. There is also a long-established system of public distribution of food to the needy in India. But a 2001 petition to the Supreme Court revealed just how badly this system was functioning. The petition revealed that, 20 years after Sen’s Poverty and Famines, there was still widespread hunger in the country, especially in the drought-affected areas of Rajasthan and Orissa, while more than 50 million tonnes of food grain were lying idle on the premises of the Food Corporation of India. Both the identification of families living below the poverty line and the actual distribution at village level were so erratic and unreliable that less than five rupees worth of food per person per month was being distributed.

South Africa’s new post-apartheid constitution, inaugurated in 1996, contains a comprehensive bill of rights that includes explicit recognition and concrete descriptions of a number of economic and social rights. In 1998, Mrs Irene Grootboom lived with her family and her sister’s family in a shack about 20 metres square in Wallacedene, an informal settlement without water, electricity, sewage or rubbish collection services. Most of the residents had been on the waiting list for subsidised housing for years. Mrs Grootboom and a few hundred others decided to take matters into their own hands and occupied a vacant farm that was privately owned and had been earmarked for low-cost housing. They were evicted through a court order, their new-built homes were bulldozed and their possessions burnt. When a High Court judgment initially granted them government shelter, the government appealed to the Constitutional Court. The Court had to interpret article 26 of the new South African Constitution (Republic of South Africa 1996), which provides that (a) ‘everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing’; (b) ‘the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures (such as policy and programmes) to achieve the progressive realisation of this right’; and (c) ‘within its available resources’. The Court decided to test whether the Cape Metropolitan Council’s housing programme was ‘reasonable’. It found that, while the long-term policies were laudable, because there was ‘no express provision to facilitate access to temporary relief for people with no access to land, no roof over their heads, for people living in intolerable conditions and crisis situations’, the programme was not reasonable and therefore unconstitutional (Thipanyane n.d.).

Like Bourgois, work in my own country played a strong role in opening up new questions about violence. The riots that took place over 12 hours in Bradford on 7 July 2001 involved hundreds of young Pakistani males. These males come out of rural Asian and mostly Muslim socialisation cultures (although the vast majority were second-generation immigrants), in which male honour is one of the most dominant socialisation norms. These traditional cultural norms have been fertilized with Western cultural portrayals of masculinity so that the rioters described their violence in language from film and television; it was, they said:

like a mission…James Bond.’…a ‘fight to the finish…a battle…A game…I’m in the middle of a war zone’…’My head went…I don’t take shit off nobody…I am angry…I’ll take him out before he takes me out’…’It does mek yer feel strong, cos yer done it with a load guys and lads. (Bujra and Pearce 2005: 11)

The need to explore the relationship between masculinity, femininity and violence has arisen from my field research in violent contexts of Latin America and also more recently in Bradford, UK, where I was part of a research team looking at the riots that took place in that city in 2001 and in which the overwhelming number of participants were young males of Pakistani origin. In Latin America, my experiences have taken me from the state terror and dictatorships of the Southern Cone in the 1970s to the civil wars of cold war Central America and Colombia in the 1980s, the multiple complex violences of post-cold war Colombia, to the persistent and complex violences in indigenous communities of southern Mexico and to the post-war contexts of Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. It is worth noting that this personal research trajectory through three decades of violence in Latin America mirrors a great deal the pathway of others who have tried to argue for linkages between everyday violences and other kinds of violence, for example, Koonings and Kruijt (1999), Moser and Clark (2001), Moser and Winton (2002), Moser and McIlwaine (2003), and Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2004). This is partly because Latin Americanists with this trajectory are acutely aware that the way we looked at violence in the 1970s and 1980s, a period characterised by state terror and state-promoted private violence, did not prepare us for the explosion of social violences in the course of the 1990s, both in countries which had suffered civil war and in those which had not. In El Salvador, an example of the former, an average of 6,250 people per year died from direct political violence during the 1980s, compared with 8,700 to 11,000 killed every year by criminal violence in the 1990s (Bourgeois 2004: 432; PNUD 2002). But in Brazil, which did not go through civil war, violent deaths of young men were among the highest in the world in the 1990s, with a homicide rate of 18,400 for males aged 15–29 and 10,352 for males aged 30–44 in 1995 (WHO 2002: 308).


On 12 July 2006 Hizbollah militants crossed the border into Israel and ambushed a group of Israeli soldiers; eight were killed and two were taken hostage. Israel responded by imposing an air and sea blockade of Lebanon. In the following days, hundreds of civilians, including children, were killed by air strikes; Lebanese civilian infrastructure was destroyed; and hundreds of thousands of ‘non-combatants’ were displaced. Hizbollah retaliated against Israeli targets and also killed civilians. For Israel, this attack by Hizbollah is defined as an act of aggression and the Lebanese government is held responsible; civilian casualties are regrettable but are ‘collateral damage’ – the Israeli government claims to be destroying the ‘infrastructure of terror’. In fact, Human Rights Watch (2006a) has suggested the pattern of attacks indicate deliberate targeting of civilians; the Israelis seem to regard everyone as a potential combatant. For Hizbollah, attacks on Israeli civilians are considered a way to attack the state of Israel (see Human Rights Watch 2006b). For a full month both sides were engaged in what they saw as war.

North American Indymedia have undergone important changes as well. One shining example is the large Urbana-Champaign IMC, which conducted a years-long membership fund-drive to purchase the downtown Urbana Post Office building to provide space for a wide array of progressive community projects. Though it continues to court controversy for its non-profit incorporation, paid staffers, and its fiscal sponsorship of the global IMC network, the UC-IMC consistently produces vibrant community journalism via its website, a community radio station, and a monthly newspaper. A stark counter-example is the flagship Seattle IMC, which lost its prime downtown space and much of its membership. As IMCs rise and fall, the earlier rapid expansion of the network seems to have leveled out for the present.

In Latin America, the concept of communication rights provides an important source of inspiration and impetus for the revival of community radio (outlined above), concepts shaped by civil society and academia. At the same time, the recent establishment by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of Telesur in Venezuela, the ‘new television station of the South’ represents a clear challenge to the dominance of private media on the continent and, with an advisory board comprised of intellectuals and academics, is often described as an attempt to realise communication rights. Many of the same tensions that characterised the NWICO debate are re-emerging around the Chavez’s attempts to ’rebalance’ the media (not least in the government’s withdrawal of the licence to RCTV and perhaps other commercial television stations that are accused of inciting rebellion in the country).

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in China. Two decades ago the principal function of media in China was to provide the critical instrument of state control by framing and limiting news and information available to its people. Today, its principal function is the provision of advertising platforms to fuel the country’s huge consumer boom, exercised through a media environment transformed by an explosion of television and other media channels. Freedom of the press remains heavily curtailed and while a debate continues within the country about the role of a more open media in exposing corruption and providing a more stable business climate (Hilton 2006), the evidence suggests strong reluctance to accept such openness. In such a climate, media focuses mostly on entertainment, beauty, sport and of course state-controlled news.

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).

While commercial media has benefited most from liberalisation, new policy environments in many countries have also sparked a mushrooming of community media, a trend also facilitated by falling technology costs and a substantial decrease in the price of entry into the radio market (see AMARC URL). The community radio movement in Latin America, which has a long tradition, is experiencing an unprecedented expansion, with hundreds of new licences being issued and the number of community stations reaching perhaps 10,000 across the continent. Peru alone has 4,000 community radio stations and Colombia has issued 500 new licences (Gumucio, forthcoming). In Africa, particularly in Francophone Africa (Sow, forthcoming), the growth in community radio has been almost as dramatic, with thousands of community radio stations across the region.

A decade ago, with some exceptions (for example in large parts of Latin America, and in South Africa), television was largely the preserve of industrialised countries and the rich in developing countries. Today, satellite dishes are a prime consumer item in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of the world, particularly the Middle East, where the new channels (most famously al-Jazeera), have profoundly impacted the public sphere in the Arab world, providing spaces for people to gain insight into political and state actions, and engage in debates around them. Educational soap operas, such as South Africa’s award winning Soul City, are broadcast to townships where television ownership is common. In Asia, even among the poor, television ownership is rising exponentially; and in many regions of the world it provides the main source of information for people, particularly in industrialised countries. While there remains a gap in television ownership between rich and poor, and urban and rural, these gaps – at least in terms of access – are shrinking rapidly.

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.

Terrorism, political manipulation, autonomous communication, social mobilisation, and political change: Spain, March 2004

On 11 March 2004, a Madrid-based, mainly Moroccan, radical Islamic group associated with Al-Qaeda conducted in Madrid the largest terrorist attack in Europe, bombing three suburban trains, killing 199 people and wounding over 1,000. The bombing was conducted by remote-control-activated cell phones. Indeed, it was the discovery of a cell phone calling card in an unexploded bag that led to the identification of the phone and the arrest of the culprits. Al-Qaeda took responsibility for the bombing later that evening. The attack took place in a very special political context, four days before the Spanish parliamentary elections, which were dominated by the debate on the participation of Spain in the Iraq war, a policy opposed by the vast majority of Spanish citizens. Yet the conservative party, Partido Popular (PP), was considered the likely winner of the election, based on its record on economic policy and its stand on Basque terrorism. However, in the last weeks before the election the young, charismatic Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero waged an impressive electoral campaign, so that on 10 March 2004 opinion polls rendered the result of the election too close to call one way or another.

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).

So far these new forms of citizen action and civic culture have not revitalised the political system. If the gap between politics and society remains unbridged, they may – paradoxically – contribute to further undermine representative democracy. To acknowledge the emergence of these new processes of social participation and communication does not imply their idealisation. Freedom and innovation go hand-in-hand with uncertainty and risk. In any one sitation, the appeal of populism is as strong as the disaffection towards the political system. The risks of authoritarian regression are as real as the perspectives for strengthening democracy through citizen participation and civic culture. Much will depend on the capacity of democratic leaders and empowered citizens to interact in a constructive way, as they have done in Brazil, to create the most successful developing country programme to fight HIV and AIDS (de Oliveira 2001) or in the Colombian cities of Bogotá and Medellín to fight violence with the resources of citizen conviviality (Mockus 2002). The paramount contributions of Latin America to global civil society and to the global spread of democracy are to preserve the freedom and autonomy of civil society and to deepen democracy at the national and regional level.

The crisis of the Latin American developmentalist model of the 1960s and 1970s, based on internal markets and import substitution, coincided with the sweeping changes brought about by globalisation. A state-centred vision of national development, deeply ingrained in Latin American political culture and institutions, came into sharp conflict with the demands of global competitive capitalism. Internal needs and external pressure led to a second drastic process of change: the reform of the state and the opening up of closed national economies to global trade, privatisation and fiscal adjustment. Globalisation, however, is not only an economic or technological process. It is also a political, social and cultural phenomenon. It is not only about financial flows and goods being exchanged in the global market arena. Globalisation is also about information, values, symbols and ideas. The modernisation of the economy and the emergence of open, democratic societies thus represented a profound historical change, both in the patterns of development and in the social dynamics of Latin American countries.

Twenty years after the transition from military dictatorship to the rule of law, democracy is in crisis in Latin America. This crisis is also raising questions and forcing a reappraisal of the role played by civil society in strengthening democracy in the region. The manifestations and causes of this crisis, as well as how to deepen democracy in order to safeguard it, are the focus of this chapter.

Similarly, there are Chinese dissidents who have put the struggle for democracy and political rights at the forefront of their activism. Xu Wenli, known as the ‘godfather of dissent’ in China was involved and imprisoned for involvement in the ‘Democracy Wall’ movement in the 1970s. The wall was a notice board for dissident views. In 1998 he tried to establish the China Democratic Party, the first opposition party in China, directly undermining the regime’s soul. Subsequently jailed for 13 years and released early on medical grounds, Xu Wenli joined a growing number of Chinese dissidents in exile. However, the political struggle and its persecution in China has continued, exemplified by Hu Jia and his wife Zeng Jinyan. Their latest house arrest and ban on foreign travel is part of a crackdown on human rights activists in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing (see Box 5.1). Hu Jia began as an HIV/AIDS activist in the 1990s. However, he soon realised that social challenges in China could not be tackled without first addressing politics, and consequently turned his efforts to the struggle for the freedom of speech and the press.

European democracy promotion

While democratisation is by no means a new departure for the EU or European bilateral donors, Richard Gillespie and Richard Youngs contend that the US began focusing more systematically on democratisation slightly earlier than the EU and that effective co-ordination of EU democracy promotion efforts has been conspicuously absent (Gillespie and Youngs 2002). They maintain that until the late 1990s, the lack of mechanisms for marrying national initiatives to overall common guidelines on democracy presented a serious challenge to effective concerted European action (Gillespie and Youngs 2000: 6). Discussions on transatlantic democracy building efforts have intensified following September 11 (Schmid and Braizat 2006: 4), but as Jeffrey Kopstein points out, following the war in Iraq, many European leaders and the European public remain suspicious of democracy promotion, interpreting it as ‘a repackaged commitment to the unilateral use of force as well as justification for war and occupation’ (Kopstein 2006: 85).