Between Individuality and Collectiveness: Email Lists and Face-to-Face Contact in the Global Justice Movement

Between Individuality and Collectiveness: Email Lists and Face-to-Face Contact in the Global Justice Movement

Anastasia Kavada (University of Westminster, UK)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/jep.2010102203
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Abstract

Decentralized and internally diverse, the Global Justice Movement (GJM) is thought to be influenced by its use of the internet. Operating in an environment characterized by the conditions of globalization and late modernity, the movement strives to be a collective that accommodates individual difference. Focusing on the organizing process of the European Social Forum, this article examines the role of email lists and physical meetings in realizing this ‘unity in diversity’. Based on interviews with movement activists and a content analysis of three email lists, this article examines how online and face-to-face communication practices engender different dynamics in terms of individuality and collectiveness. While communication on email lists tends to afford divergence, diversity, and individual autonomy, face-to-face contact enables convergence, unity and the affirmation of the collective. Thus, it is the combination of those two modes of communication that helps the movement to fuse seemingly opposing dynamics.
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The Global Justice Movement, Diversity And Individual Autonomy

Emerging from the consolidation of activist networks developed over the 1980s and 1990s (Smith, 2001), the Global Justice Movement (GJM) has been defined as

the loose network of organizations (with varying degrees of formality and even including political parties) and other actors engaged in collective action of various kinds, on the basis of the shared goal of advancing the cause of justice (economic, social, political, and environmental) among and between people across the globe (della Porta, 2007, p. 6)

Landmark campaigns, including the Zapatista solidarity network and the campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment in 1998, constituted vital points of convergence (Smith & Smythe, 2001). The bonds created through them were activated during the organizing of the ‘Battle of Seattle’ in late 1999, the first high-profile protest of the GJM where participants managed to disrupt the meeting of the World Trade Organization.

In the years that followed, ‘alter-globalization’ activists protested during the meetings of large international institutions, such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. At the same time, they developed their own summit process through the establishment of the social forums. These operate as “an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences, and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism” (World Social Forum Charter of Principles, 2001). The success of the first World Social Forum (WSF) in 2001 led to the development of the process on a regional and local level. The European Social Forum (ESF), on which this article will be focusing, was first held in Florence in 2002, while subsequent ESFs took place in Paris (2003), in London (2004), in Athens (2006), and in Malmo (2008).

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