1. Gieuseppe Caruso, Research student at SOAS

Below is an interview transcript of a PhD student at SOAS researching 'Conflict Management' in the World Social Forum. A semi-stuctured interview was conducted in August 2005.

WSF has been called a movement of the ‘global left’? Do you agree?

This is a difficult and debatable question. At one hand, you have the left progressive movements or more traditional ways of engagement like communist parties, etc. I think, in terms of more progressive movements, yes the WSF is a movement of the ‘global left’.


There has been a lot of critique on ‘carnival’ vs ‘rational debate’ aspect of the WSF. People have called it a ‘traveling circus’ and ‘socialist dance’ of the anarchists. How far do you think that is true?

There are moments and incidents over a period of 5 days in which anything can happen. Nobody should have too many expectations about what the WSF can deliver. The WSF can only bring people together. Whatever happens is entirely upto the people. Really there is a very simple example, think about it in terms of a party. A friend of yours throws a party. But as it happens the party is not necessarily under his control. You go there, you meet somebody, you make friends with people. You may start business together or you start a project or an NGO. So, this is entirely upto you whatever you make of that party. Now at a much more complex state, this is exactly what the WSF is trying to do; to create and facilitate a place, where people can meet and whatever happens is entirely upto them when they go back to their individual realities when the carnival is over.

Do you think the use of ICTS effects dialogue?

Absolutely, but it has to be a very careful use.

You are looking into the issue of conflict management in the WSF. So, tell me what communication tools and methods are there that facilitate the organization of the forum?

This is an interesting topic, which is undergoing a continuous change. There are different places where communication takes place. There is internal and then there is external communication in the sense of getting the message out through the media. Internal communication is simply what happens between the groups working on the WSF. There would be three more forums next year and the International Committee is divided into commissions. One of the commissions is on communication and what they are trying to do is to devise a very complex system to strategize communication both, internally and externally, trying out various options to enhance communication within the forum and also to engage as many media as possible outside the WSF.

So what strategies are being implemented?

They have two kinds of strategies. Especially one is the virtual strategy. Another is the real world. Virtual strategy goes through the internet/information highway and the traditional goes through hardware i.e letters, written and printed material to reach all those who are not able to access the internet.

As for tools, there are massive set of tools from mailing lists, to meeting spaces in the web site to website to conferencing. On a more traditional level they are engaging radios, television, alternative magazines and mainstream ones.

For mainstream media the aim is to create a pool of sympathizer journalists to address regularly with press releases. Now, what I am telling you are not the only possible methods. They are trying to devise one standardized method that can be consistently used throughout the process. But at the moment there is no real coordination. Everyone in the WSF is experimenting with more or less successful outcomes.

Are there any communications tools that hurt during the facilitation of the Forum?

The main problem communication facilitators would have is two-fold: privilege of the internet and the English language. The internet, which did not reach the community level people and the other, was language. I think, there are processes that facilitate and the processes that engage especially when the internet is coordinated with a more traditional media.

Do you think there is something as citizen-mediated communication?

If you see the number of ‘blogs’ that come out every time there is a WSF, I would say there is an immense interaction of citizen-mediated communication.

How are people mobilized for the Forum?

There are at least two to three ways to mobilize people. First is through the personal contacts of organizers and their networks. Second is a more structured, standard approach to mobilization done through the formal organization of the event and the third is through the media, press releases and articles. One example to this end is Ciranda, which is an interesting experiment.

What do you think of Ciranda’s role?

Very important. As you can see, Ciranda has some of the most alternative journalists and media professionals. It is an ongoing process.

What do you think of the WSF web site?

It provides necessary information; the memory; the archives; catalogues of activities.

How often you browse the web page?

Never. During the event or just before the event to check feedback of a selective number of people. Otherwise there is not much. The web site is very non-participatory. You cannot do anything. Now there are open publishing tools like Wiki that need to be incorporated.

Are there any important lessons to share about the WSF in relation to the role of communications?

  • One has to be careful to bridge the divide. You cannot assume that the role of ICTs is to enhance the communication. It is not as wide as you wish it to be. Although all activists make massive use of ICTs, but there are situations such as local activists in India that do not use them
  • The use of local languages is fundamental to reach out to people. By the way, there is a very interesting experiment undertaken by Babels for translation of the meeting. protuguese is used..indians cannot speak protuguese…random interventions from Indian takes place there would be no contribution from south America..
  • In general, as people come from different backrounds, interaction becomes very difficult. There has to be facilitation for various processes of interaction.
  • There are long distances between one meeting to another for which people spend so much time traveling form one place to another.
  • Finally, you should really think of the WSF as a learning process, where each step is a learning experience.

Why does mainstream media under-represent the Forum?

Mainstream media is interested in big events. In the second Forum there was a connection between the WSF and Davos, which attracted a lot of attention from mainstream media. Now media is getting used to it.

There is a new move to a different strategy according to which one is not to engage directly with the mainstream media if they are not interested because that would be selling the message in a way that the WSF doesn’t like. But to engage more and more WSF’s own media to create broader and wider services for the organization of the Forum.

Where do you think this all effort is heading to?

There’s a lot of dreaming going on. Somebody has also dreamt of building the CNN of the people. The concentration of the media is growing and the WSF is also giving space for the new media to come up at each and every global event. Also, I think this dreaming of building new channels and new radio networks may not necessarily be the dream of future.

So, do you think this can disturb the power of the mainstream media? Do you think another media are possible?

Oh yeah, well ‘another media’ is not only possible it is actually there. If you consider the Indy Media Network, it is one of the most important and interesting network. It is everywhere and it is growing.

Do you think Indymedia has played a significant role in the coverage of the WSF?

In all the Forums, there is a media centre run by Indymedia. I actually stayed in one of those. It was an amazing media centre in which computers were connected to everywhere in the world and there were people recording, typing and sending pictures. If you look at the archives of the Indymdia, it has incredible reports of the all the WSFs.

Would this lead to achieving participatory democracy as well?

Of course, when there is more communication, there is more participation. Culture is communication. As for Barthes: culture is only performed culture. Let us start from this very simple statement. Each experiment within the WSF enhances participation in one specific way of communication. There are different layers of communication, if you enable people to share information at the global level. Your access to informed decision is your right to participate. If you have information, you take informed decisions and you play an active role in a society. This new media is starting to give a chance to as many people as possible to increase their information capital, therefore increasing their ability to take informed decisions.

2. Ruchi Tripathi, Team Leader, Food Rights Campaigns,
Actionaid, UK

This is an interview transcript of Ruchi Tripathi, who brings a development practitioners’ perspective to the understanding
of the WSF 2005 and the role of communications.

What are your general impressions about the WSF?

Well, I think it is a great place for networking. There are loads of people from different countries. So, it is a good place to either find out or learn about issues or if you've already been working in a particular area, it provides a really good networking-connect with people from around the world.

Is it really a movement of the global left?

I wouldn't characterize it as the movement of the global left only. The reason I am saying this is because it is a very diverse movement. It is not centralized; it provides a place where people come together who think they can create a better world; where you bring different views and different solutions. But I wouldn't call it a movement of the global left.

What do you think about the question of representation vs participation? Does the WSF really offer a platform to the voices of the marginalized?

Depends on what do you really mean by ‘the voices of the marginalized'. I mean , yes of course it represents the voices of the marginalized but in what way. When the WSF was in Mumbai, it was easier for the marginalized people to be there themselves and speak for themselves rather than for people like me or other NGOs speaking on their behalf. Because even if you are from an NGO, you would go there, ou are speaking ‘on behalf' of the marginalized. So yes you are representing their voices but they are not able to represent themselves. And it is the case with the WSF in Porto Alegre . Just because of distance the character of it is quite different than when it was held in Mumbai. Mumbai has masses of poverty at its doorstep. So it was a very different WSF where poor people were able to be a mainstream force in all the marches themselves rather than say the WSF that had been held in Brazil .

WSF has often been accused of fostering a kind of elitism – dominated by a few groups mostly from Latin America and Europe . Do you agree?

Well, again because the WSF originated from Latin America, so of course, it is much easier for those groups to be there and Latin Americans are quite mobilized and organized themselves, particularly the trade unions and the left political parties, who sort of supported and started the whole process. Yes they are represented in a much bigger scale than other parts of the world and also Europeans, because of I guess the resources that they have, are able to take better part in the WSF and that's why I think there was the move to have the WSF in Mumbai and now the next WSF in Africa as well to make sure that other continents are better represented. But yeah, I agree that is true what you said.

There has been a lot of critique on ‘carnival' vs ‘rational debate' aspect of the WSF. How far do you think that is true?

With respect to the WSF in Porto Alegre , because of the location of where it is, Latin Americans are like this. Everything they do is a carnival. If they are protesting as well, it'll be in the form of a carnival. So that's really linked with the culture of the place. Again if you compare the WSF in Porto Alegre to Mumbai, again in Mumbai the march was a typical South Asian march with lots of women holding placards, whereas in Porto Alegre , the march was with samba bands with music, lots of motivation and colour. That really is a cultural aspect which comes into the WSF and into the way it represents itself.

Do you think something which is so fluid, open and expanding can deliver participatory democracy ~ I mean a democratic space which can work as an option for the people to make rational choices and play a role in decision making.

I am not sure. Well it is creating opportunities for people to come together to talk about ideas, which they can then take back and use in their own context. The WSF by itself isn't going to change the structures or decision making. It's the ideas from the WSF that people will take back in their own lives and in their own context which will lead to the change. So, it's not a formal body which makes decisions.

With respect to the kind of workshops you have attended, do you think there is something like people-centered communication.

I guess there are different tiers. I guess, the WSF tries to provide translators and translation to make sure that people from different contexts are able to participate, which is an important aspect of our meeting as well. In the last social forum, when we organized meeting of the corporate accountability we made sure that those people who came from the grassroots level had translators; someone who could translate what was going on to them. So I mean translation really is key in this respect.

Do you think the use of communications technologies effects dialogue

Well, I have been involved in typical NGO-like workshops where either there are information sharing sessions or strategizing; where they have used various tools in terms of you know flip charts, or breaking into smaller groups and strategizing. So, I mean I wouldn't know of other tools. These tools worked fine in the context of the workshops I attended.

So, what was the communications challenge if you have to sum it up?

The key was really translation because there were people from Latin America primarily because of the WSF being in Brazil . It's the question of just the ability of being able to understand what you are hearing through either translation.

What is it that you really liked about the Forum this time?

Most of the sessions were self-mediated by most of the groups, where you have people presenting. What I really liked this time, we were able to do a bit more strategizing. In the past you will have big meetings where you have NGO activists and sort of known names presenting and talking to you. Whereas this time, there was a conscious decision to have smaller workshops. So there wasn't a big plenary like in the past. This time apart from Lula's speech in the stadium, most of the other workshops were smaller workshops, which I think added a perspective because it helped us in strategizing. Otherwise what often happens is you just hear the same muse and meet the same people and you don't take it to the next level. What is needed is NGOs coming together or communities coming together and actually finding a solution, which is what we were able to do much better this time round because of the smaller workshops; because of break-away groups; because of the methods that were used.

What is Action Aid's role in the Forum?

Action Aid supports the forum financially and also has a major presence in the forum. Action Aid is also a part of the organizing committee and involved in the WSF's planning process. An again, we were quite conscious of actually bringing social movements and supporting their participation at the WSF rather than only the staff from Action Aid. Again this is something that we have been promoting quite actively. At the leadership level Action Aid is an NGO, but we want to work with other social movements. So it is an opportunity for our leadership to really talk with and come together with other social movements e.g Via Campesina and their leadership. So, I mean overall it's an event that we really prioritize. To give you an example our CEO was invited to the WEF, but he refused and chose to go the WSF and to side with the idea and the people at the WSF rather than the people at the WEF.

How do you mobilize groups from the South?

Well we work directly in countries in the South, with southern staff. So it is in our day to day working that we work with groups locally and that is how we mobilize them for the WSF as well.

You just talked about Via Campesina and new social movements from Latin America . What is the difference between Latin American and South Asian movements in terms of having easy access to participation.

Groups in Via Campesina are very well organized. Also if you look at the Right to Food campaign in India , which is a campaign of many social movements, they are using the web quite effectively. As they are using these communication techniques, what is happening now increasingly that either small social movements groups are coming together and forming an umbrella or they are doing so through some support from NGOs e.g. there is a very good NGO called ‘Focus on the Global South' which actually supports a lot of social movements. So you will either have social movements forming a network; umbrella (right to food ) campaign as in India or you have social movements getting support from NGOs to effectively use communication tools.

You just said they have been using web effectively. How effectively and in what ways?

I mean they send out updates of what's happening, progress on the campaign. They put their reports on the web so that campaign can actually link different people within India . But also am sitting in London and receiving regular updates and information on the campaign. It is a start. I mean it isn't as advanced use of communications tools as say some of the campaigning organizations in the West are doing. But it's the beginning where they have started learning the use of communications tools.

Do you access the WSF's web site?

No, not really. But only to find out the agenda of the WSF.

Do you thin the WSF is under-represented by the mainstream media?

Yeah. Definitely. There is no reporting of the WSF outside of Latin America . I mean when it's held in Latin America it gets quite good coverage in the province where it's held and perhaps also in the national papers in Latin America . But it's of very little interest to mainstream media in the West or in other parts of the world.

Why does the WSF get so little coverage as compared to the WEF?

WEF is a meeting of powerful men and media is interested in what hey have to say, whereas in the WSF we are trying to create an agenda which does not fit in with the mainstream agenda. So, there's always resistance to this. Even if you look at the media generally, you'll know the representation of development issues in mainstream media particularly in the West is pretty hard. Also, because it's something that we are trying to proactively push into the media, it is not something that the media is coming after. So this is something again, I think that needs to change. I mean, there is general apathy about the issues that we are dealing with essentially.

Which one of the these names have you heard of: Ciranda, Terra Viva, AMARC, Le Monde Diplomatique

I just heard of them. Le Monde Diplomatique do their talks and I get emails about them. But no, I don't know much about these.

So how does Action Aid covers its participation?

We try to reach out to the media. We have media offices there with us who talk to the media. We got some coverage in the Guardian here and in most of the mainstream papers because of the event and the launch where President Lula spoke this time. We also launched a report at the same time at the WSF, which got covered as well, here in the Guardian. But you know that's because of constant contacts with papers and following up with them. Our press officers go there as well. But it's not an easy place to get media coverage or stories. It's is pretty hard.

Looking at the kind of movement which is emerging, is another world really possible or is it just a rhetoric

Of course I believe that it is possible. Otherwise, I won't be working in Action Aid. To what degree, what pace, when are all those questions that time will tell. I think it's the little little efforts that make a difference. I am involved in advocacy and campaigning which takes many many years to create a change. So I am quite used to slow progress. But I think yes, another world is possible. What we are trying to do is, I guess two things: make sure that the current world becomes more progressive and we try and challenge critical concepts, but also provide an alternative which is what WSF is trying to do. I mean technically, I mean that's what it is supposed to do: try and create alternative distribution systems. For example to talk about using local currency in Thailand are some of those really creative ideas which come to the WSF and eventually to the bigger picture as well.

Given a choice if you are invited to the next forum, will you go?

No. I would only go if it helps in furthering my campaign. Because what is so frustrating about the WSF is a lack of strategy and which is why this time around the reason why it was better for me, because there were smaller workshops and we could strategize. I don't want to go to the WSF to hear the same people talk about the same issues, which is frustrating. Also I would like other people to go, perhaps who haven't been to the WSF before. I would like people to go from the community, from the grassroots to really have that experience. I personally wouldn't want to go just to network without concrete ideas.

Now there's a move to having Polycentric Forums? Do you think it is a good idea?

I think that's better because that gives more space for concrete actions and strategizing. Otherwise it is pretty hard to follow up. People meet in two years time in the next WSF which isn't that productive.

One word that can explain your experience of the WSF


Copyrights © 2005 Sumaira Sagheer Toor
Masters Dissertation, MA in Global Media and Postnational Communication, School of Oriental and African Studies, London