Studying communicative practices in Global Justice Movements

The Global Justice Movements (GJMs) can be interpreted as a new generation of the NSMs. As the label indicates, they emphasize the global dimension of the problems they tackle. They also tend to be oriented globally, or at least transnationally, in their organizational forms and scope of mobilization (della Porta 2007). Compared to the NSMs, the range of issues and problems addressed has not fundamentally changed. However, more than before these problems are seen as interrelated and, to a large degree, interpreted as negative consequences of an economic and political regime of a globalized neoliberalism (Rucht 2003). GJMs, like the NSMs, favour a decentralized structure based on the full autonomy of groups and networks. In their communicative practices, they promote equality, empathy and respect for the other. This becomes obvious in their large meetings, most prominently the World Social Forums, where no group is entitled to speak on behalf of other groups (Sen et al. 2004). Accordingly, no decisions or list of priorities and no strategic choices are made on the level of the so-called ‘movement of movements’, apart from the recognition of a (very general) mission statement such as that of Charter of Porto Alegre. Also, there is a widespread reluctance to create ‘stars’ that can be viewed as speakers or representatives of the ensemble of groups, networks and alliances that subscribe to the slogan of ‘Another World is Possible!’.

These movements are composed of variegated and mostly loosely coupled organizations and networks centred around specific ideological tendencies and/or thematic foci. They are connected by major campaigns, overlapping memberships, newsletters and other means of communication including the internet. Only on rare occasions, for example an outstanding international congress or protest event, do component parts of the GJM come together. For example, the World Social Forum may attract up to 200,000 participants in hundreds of meetings and workshops (Rucht 2011). While it would be difficult to study one of these huge meetings closely, covering the total of the communicative practices of these movements would be impossible.

Therefore, one can focus on a more modest selection of small and mostly locally based groups belonging to the wider networks of GJMs. Usually, these groups are composed of ideologically similar-minded people and also socially homogeneous individuals who know each other from more or less regular meetings. In addition, we can also study selected groups located at the intermediary level between the micro and macro-cosmos of movements. In these meso-mobilization groups, members or delegates of various local and issue-specific groups come together to share experiences, to discuss priorities, strategies and tactics, and coordinate and mobilize for specific campaigns. With regard to these different kinds of groups, it is interesting to know whether, and under what conditions, deliberation takes place.

However, it might be useful to take a broader perspective by looking at different communication practices among which deliberation is just one variant. This has been done, both in conceptual and empirical terms, in the context of an international research project (see note 17). Let us first take a look at the conceptual considerations before presenting and discussing empirical findings.

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