Organizing Possible Futures: Organizational Democracy in the World Social Forum

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:15
Location: Seminarsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Micha FIEDLSCHUSTER, Leipzig University, Germany
The World Social Forum’s (WSF) slogan ‘another world is possible’ invites its participants to develop projects for possible futures. The WSF is a place that facilitates the exchange of people-driven strategies to tackle economic, social and political problems from a transnational perspective. The organizers seek to provide a democratic space that is diverse and inclusive. The challenge that the organizers are faced with here is to define a format that reconciles the participants’ different organizational styles and their expectations concerning democratic organizing. The organizers’ solution is to have a predominantly self-organized space with a rudimentary organizational framework that is supposed to facilitate inclusion and diversity in the Forum. The backdrop of this solution is that it raises issues of informal hierarchies, lack of transparency and weak accountability. These issues could be tackled by introducing more formal organizational elements in the WSF. I argue to the contrary that such a solution would miss the point of organizational democracy in the WSF. Based on my field work conducted at the WSF between 2012 and 2015, my aim is to show that questions of democratic organizing cannot be restricted to (formal) organizational structures. Based on Weick’s (1976) idea of loose coupling and Ahrne and Brunsson’s (2011) partial organization, I will argue that the dilemma of organizers of activist spaces is often not one between more or less formal organization. Rather, it is about seeking a form of internal democracy, which reflects organizational matters, networking needs and normative aspirations.


Ahrne, Göran, and Nils Brunsson. 2011. “Organization Outside Organizations: The Significance of Partial Organization.” Organization 18 (1): 83–104.

Weick, Karl E. 1976. “Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems.” Administrative Science Quarterly 21 (1): 1–19.