Connecting the peripheries: networks, place and scale in the World Social Forum process

Stephansen, Hilde C. (2013). Connecting the peripheries: networks, place and scale in the World Social Forum process. Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 49(5) pp. 506–518.



Communication technologies occupy a central place in contemporary theorizations of transnational social movement networks. Not only does the Internet provide the technical infrastructure through which activists communicate and share information, increasing their capacity to introduce oppositional messages into the public realm (Castells); its network architecture is also closely linked to the organizational logic of contemporary social justice movements (Juris). While recognizing the fundamental importance of communication technologies for such movements, this article cautions against overly disembodied conceptions of transnational activist networks and highlights the need to pay attention to issues of place and scale, as well as the importance of affect in the construction of alternative global imaginaries. Through a case study of a small social forum event held in February 2010 in a poor urban community in the south of Brazil as part of the World Social Forum process, the article examines activists' use of communication technologies to construct transnational networks between different place-based actors. It shows that these practices are not simply concerned with establishing links between already existing places; the creation of networks is also inextricably bound up with particular constructions of place. By engaging in a politics that is simultaneously place-based and global in scope, these actors challenge traditional conceptions of scale as well as dominant epistemological paradigms.

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