The first section of this chapter will examine the political and philosophical origins of social forums, and the distinctive principles associated with them. In the next section, we will describe what is actually happening: the people and activities involved at the world, regional, national, and local levels. The third section will discuss the major issues and themes on which social forums focus, and how these have been evolving. In the fourth section we aim to draw out the areas of tension and the failures of social forums, including ideological clashes and organisational challenges encountered in putting the social forum principles into practice. In concluding we examine the implications of the experiences of social forums for global civil society, and look to what their future role could be.
But the forum, of course, has further antecedents. At least four interrelated strands can be detected. The first goes back at least to the 1970s, although it could be dated back further, to national anti-colonial struggles. It is connected to the idea of the New International Economic Order, which sought to give Third World governments more say in global affairs, and in the management of their own economy. This strand of activism is associated with anti-imperialism (taking the empire to be the West, and more specifically the United States), state socialism, and national solutions to economic problems.
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