chapter  6
16 Pages

At the edges of global justice: the global left and subaltern subjectivities

The WSF is a laboratory of practices for other possible worlds in a time of civilizational crisis and transition. The WSF is a harbinger of this transition and an incubator for its emergent potentialities. The WSF is also rooted in the world that is passing. It is riven with the tensions and contradictions of this historical positioning as one in which, in Gramsci’s words, the old is dying and the new is not yet born. In writing this book, I set out to appreciate its historical breakthroughs in this context. I also set out to see more clearly the WSF’s internal conflicts and contra-

dictions and, moreover, to render these analytically and politically productive. By critically deconstructing the totalizing and often utopian discourses about the WSF, by rooting the WSF more empirically in terms of its own history of practice and in terms of some of its most voluble contesting political traditions, I sought to specify and delimit its character as a political undertaking. I sought to do this critically and with appreciation, to see it as fully as possible for what it has achieved and can possibly accomplish, but without harbouring any illusion that it is or can be everything to all movements in all terms. This is important, I think, in preventing the WSF from becoming a totalizing and messianic project, which seeks to aggregate all liberatory agendas into itself. It is also important in assisting the WSF to be all it can be – to be a friend of all who struggle against injustice and oppression without assuming it can or should incorporate them all. In the early days of the WSF, preserving the mystery of this significantly

new and complex practice on the global left was an important part of its power and protected it from capture. However, after ten years, as a now more stable, powerful, and mature process, it has become possible, and is indeed critical, to render the WSF more legible to itself. I have sought to do that in terms of identifying its specificity, its rootedness in specific inheritances with their inevitable limitations and contradictions, so that it might better midwife the movements for alternative worlds, themselves also partial and contradictory, which find safe harbour in the open space. It is also in the hope that the dynamism, creativity, and openness of the WSF might constitute conditions

of possibility for a historical confrontation by emancipatory social movements with their own implicatedness in relations of coloniality. In, through, and beyond the WSF, there is a global recomposition of

emancipatory politics underway. It is a contradictory, contested, and unfinished work in progress. Through this study, a major undone task has surfaced, that of facilitating a non-domineering dialogue between the civil society of the WSF and its subaltern others in all their alterity.1 This is the World Social Forum’s undone work of translation and it remains an open question as whether it has the capacity to seriously undertake this and/or whether more promising practices are incubating elsewhere, possibly in other terms. What then, have we learned about the WSF as a political undertaking

specific to the times in which we are living and expressive of transitions that are underway? What are the contours and significance of the new modality of the political enacted by the WSF? The WSF is a carrier of the emancipatory traditions of Western modernity which, while they are themselves in movement, continue to reproduce patterns of coloniality and exclusion that have proven very resistant to change within this civilizational paradigm. What does it mean that the WSF is product and carrier of these traditions? What do the WSF and its ‘others’ tell us about the horizons, including the limits of possibility, of the politics of global justice and what may lie beyond it? In the course of this book, we have encountered old and new lefts, critical

liberalisms and humanisms, autonomisms, and feminisms as they engage, contest, and thus constitute the WSF. We have also caught glimpses of the pluriverse, the existence of multiple other worlds being made visible especially through the eruption of subaltern subjectivities on the terrain of global justice. Throughout I have analyzed, both appreciatively and critically, the new modality of the political being enacted in and through the WSF. Central are the WSF’s critical positionality in the global South and its praxis of ‘open space’, undergirded by its philosophy of knowledge (epistemology), its politics of difference, and its spatial praxis, that is, the horizontal relations it enacts among places and scales in a global process. In this concluding chapter, I begin by advancing a series of key claims

about this new modality of the political which has crystallized over the course of this book through its critical encounters with the emancipatory traditions of modernity as they are being enacted in and through the WSF. Through these claims, I seek both to amplify our understandings of this new modality of the political and to identify the leading edges and outer edges of the project for global justice as it is instantiated in the WSF in our contemporary context as one of transition. These have to do with the WSF as a global civil initiative, its novel spatial praxis, its rejection of hegemonic politics, its related critique of hegemonic knowledges, the political and epistemological centrality of difference, and the status of the everyday in emerging conceptions of the political. Each points to larger transitions underway: from the hegemony of the state to the civil/social; from the hegemony of the global to place-based politics of multiple scales; from ultimate struggles for hegemony to process,

practice, and prefiguration in plural domains by diverse self-organizing actors; from pensamientos únicos to an ecology of knowledges; from the apogee of the modern political to transformations in everyday life. In all cases, these operations that we can observe in the WSF constitute edges, places of tension, and indeterminacy, full of ambivalence and contradiction. They speak to transitions underway, not completed, and processes which have been initiated but whose longer-term outcomes and effects are yet unknown. This account of the edges of global justice leads us to the heart of the

question in the title of the book, The World Social Forum and Its ‘Others’: Who are the agents, what are the sites, whose lived experiences and knowledges are privileged and whose are marginalized on the terrain of global justice? And what does this mean for how we understand, constitute, and enact any politics of global justice? This question has been haunting the book – both in the paradox of feminist and autonomist positionalities as simultaneously central and peripheral in the WSF and in the recurring spectre of subaltern movements and their structural and epistemological marginalization in the open space. Is it enough to enact an epistemology of the South as conceived by Santos and practised by the WSF? Is its preference for ‘all who are suffering under global capitalism’ in practice too generic, too all-inclusive to effectively confront the question of coloniality? Is something more demanded? And is the WSF sufficiently open and plastic that something more might be possible within its terms?