Critical Engagement with Open Space

The CEOS - Critical Engagement with Open Space - process was launched at a successful workshop on ‘In Defence of Open Space (external link)’ organised by CACIM and CCS (Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal?, Durban) at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 23 2007.

The CEOS is intended as a platform that individuals and organisations in open spaces such as the World Social Forum, global actions, or other such initiatives can share their experiences in exploring and strategically using open spaces in different social, political, and cultural realms. The objective of the process is to critically explore and interrogate the concept and dynamics of open space even as we use such spaces. The goal of this initiative is to explore and advance thinking and action involving new and more democratic ways of conducting and understanding politics and organisation within movements, institutions, and related political processes.

While one of the objectives of the process is to develop a more specific and useful / critical definition of the term, we start here with the definition of ‘open space’ as the form of organisation and structure claimed by many organisers and participants in the World Social Forum as a ‘new form of politics’. The central idea is that a ‘space’, rather than a party or movement, allows for more and different forms of relations among political actors, while remaining open-ended with respect to outcomes. It is ‘open’ in that encounters among multiple subjects with diverse objectives can have transformative political effects that traditional forms of coalition and campaigns, with uniform themes and goals, exclude. We are asking whether and how effectively the notion of open space addresses the question of more democratic ways of conducting and understanding politics and organisation within movements, and to what extent it can also operate within more institutional political processes.

The CEOS process however is not limited to the WSF alone, and in general aims at a critical engagement with ideas, ideologies, systems, organisations, institutes, networks, forums, and also as it occurs in the personal lives and life practices of us as individuals.

Looking ahead : Building a critically engaged open space process

A wide range of opinions were expressed at the workshop.? On the one hand it was clear from the debate that the concept of open space is, while important, nevertheless full of paradoxes and contradictions, and that it needs to be critically interrogated and understood. But on the other hand, it is equally true that the concept of something like open space is organic to our times, and therefore that the critical defence and promotion of open space is also of crucial and growing importance at this stage in history - in terms of the future of the WSF, of the still-emerging global social justice movement, and more generally for open and free association in societies across the world.

To reiterate what CACIM has now said in various places, the need for this critical engagement with open space is today urgent and that this urgency comes from two directions. First, because of the rising debate internal to the World Social Forum and more generally to the global movement regarding the need for a more clearly defined political programme. Can articulating and adhering to a given programme be consistent with the idea of openness, horizontality, and open space ? And second, also because of the current juncture in world history, post 9/11, where – under the regime of exceptionalism – a wide range of steps have been taken and are being taken by governments, both in the North and the South, and even in liberal democracies, to curb and to suspend civil liberties and freedoms purportedly in the name of the public good. These steps – accompanied by widespread mendacity on the part of their proponents - are radically invading privacy, community, and culture, in particular through the articulation of ‘homeland security’ with all its ramifications, and also through increasing world alarms around pandemics; but worse, these steps are also being widely internalised and propagated within and by civil societies across the world. In this context, all practices of ‘open space’ and horizontality must be recognised as also being significant and radical polemical challenges to empire and to hegemonic politics.

An invitation to join and be active in the CEOS process

We invite you to join this process and lay out ways in which you can do so -

  • Join , the listserve we have set up to facilitate exchange and coordination and to carry forward the interrogation of the idea of ‘open space’. Just send an empty mail to
  • Take part in and promote the CEOS-related activities listed below (point 5) and all others that come up in the course of this next while
  • Propose and undertake your own activities in the defence and promotion of open space and in critical engagement with it
  • Join the CEOS Process working group, by writing to us @
  • Plan from now to come to the EIOS Conference in India in November 2007
  • Send us your endorsement of our conference proposal, and –
  • Make any other suggestions you have for this process and how it should go forward.

Outcomes of the Nairobi IDOS meetings

Apart from the workshop we also had other related discussions with people and organisations at the Forum, some of the outcomes of are :

1. We at CACIM are in the process of preparing a report on the Nairobi workshop.

2. CACIM on behalf of EIOS collective is also in the process of raising funds for organising the ‘Explorations in Open Space’ Conference as announced at the Nairobi Workshop – tentatively scheduled for the second half of November, here in India – and for a related process of mobilisation and debate around the concept of open space here in India. Please book the time from now ! In the meanwhile however, it will be very important for us to have your / your organisation’s / network’s endorsement of our proposal for the Conference and process by writing to us @ . Details to follow.

3. Follow-up collaboration : We had follow-up meetings in Nairobi with the Centre for Civil Society (external link), Durban; the Programme of Studies on Democracy and Global Transformation (‘Democracia y Transformación Global’) at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima; and IBASE (external link), São Paulo.

4. Support and participation from the WSF organisers : We also had meetings with Antonio Martins, Chico Whitaker, and Moema Miranda – all of the original WSF Brazil Organising Committee, then called the ‘WSF International Office’, and now to be apparently called the ‘Facilitating Group’ – in regard to, among other things, the open space process being proposed here. All of them agreed to strongly support and participate in it, and to plan to come to the November Conference.

5. Follow-up activities, and a CEOS Working Group : We also had informal other meetings with several people in Nairobi in the days after the IDOS workshop, to discuss possible follow-up activities, and some of us met up on January 25 to discuss this together. The main conclusions were :

    1. That the follow-up process to the Nairobi workshops and discussions should be made up of autonomous and collaborative activities located in different parts of the world, over this coming year;
    2. That some of those who agree to undertake activities will come together to form an informal and open working group, to facilitate collaboration, sharing of information and experience, and coordination – tentatively called the CEOS Working Group; and -
    3. That in particular we will attempt to come together at the Conference proposed by CACIM for this coming November, and there to plan out open space activities that could take place along with and as a part of the World Social Forum activities in January 2008 – and with other such activities worldwide.
    4. Several concrete ideas and offers came up at this meeting, including the following :
    • The preparation of an Open Space Reader, comparable to the Bamako Appeal Reader (external link) that CACIM and CCS brought out at Nairobi
    • An CEOS process in India, starting as soon as we can – hopefully, from the second quarter this year onwards (CACIM)
    • A photo book on open space and the freedom of expression at the WSF (Jane Duncan, Lenore Cairncross / the Freedom of Expression Institute (external link), Johannesburg)
    • A workshop on open space and the alter-globalisation movement, as a part of the preparations for the anti-G8 demonstrations in Germany in June 2007 (Dorothea Haerlin, Berlin)
    • A paper on open space, movement, and time (Ahmed Veriava, Prishani Naidoo, Johannesburg)
    • A film on open space based on activities and interviews at the Nairobi Forum (Shannon Walsh, CCS, Durban)
    • An international conference and related meetings on Open Space, in India in November 2007 (CACIM – as above).

__ We look forward to your joining and taking part in the CEOS process, and to working with you !__

Created by: sahbittu. Last Modification: Friday 23 of February, 2007 10:48:01 IST by System Administrator.
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