Reading Open Space Critically

Thoughts towards an Open Space Reader

CACIM, draft one, February 2007

The World Social Forum is widely celebrated as an ‘open space’ that has no clearly defined political programme of its own – other than its Charter of Principles - but rather provides a relatively free and undirected space for all those interested in exchanging ideas and experience about the state of the world, or in developing their own programmes, to do so.

The Reader we are proposing to bring out on Open Space will be an attempt to contribute to a critical understanding of the political-cultural concept of ‘open space’. Directly, it is one outcome of a workshop organised by CACIM together with Centre for Civil Society, Durban, at the World Social Forum 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 23 2007, titled ‘In Defence of Open Space’, and is a contribution to the CEOS - Critical Engagement with Open Space – process agreed upon at this meeting[1]. But more broadly, it is a continuation of work by CACIM and some of its associates since 2002 towards critically interrogating both the World Social Forum as a political and cultural phenomenon and also its culture of politics, often portrayed as an ‘open space’. (Annexure 1.)

The CEOS process 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.

This Reader, thus, is an attempt at chronicling the journeys, theoretical premises, and practical manifestations of open space in disciplines and systems across the world.

Proposed Structure for the Reader :
  1. Introduction/s
  2. Acknowledgements and credits
  3. Theoretical propositions on Open Space :
    1. Karl Popper
      ( (external link), (external link), (external link))
    2. Chico Whitaker
    3. etc (Rodrigo Nunes, Michal Osterweil, Jai Sen, etc)
    4. Ahmed Veriava - open space and time
    5. On emergence
    6. ???
  4. Open space, cross culturally
  5. A critical review of important historical events or processes that have opened up / defended spaces, in different contexts :
    1. Civil rights, human rights
    2. Freedom of Expression
    3. Google ?
    4. Open Source
    5. Right to Information. Freedom of Information
    6. Transparency (International)
    7. Wikipedia
    8. The women’s movement
    9. ??? [What about in the arts, in film, in dance, in music ?]
  6. Contemporary experiments in open(ing) spaces :
    • Autonomous spaces
    • Creative Commons
    • Open Borders
    • Open Cultures
    • Open Education Processes
    • OpenScience Project
    • Open Societies
    • Open Source Software
    • Open Space Cafés
    • Open Space Technology
    • Public domain [Public space ?]
    • The WSF and its culture of Open Space
  7. The EIOS (Explorations in/of Open Space) process and reports, essays, and other materials generated in and on open space
  8. The CEOS (Critical Engagement with Open Space) Process
  9. Reports on other related experiments and processes in open space :
    1. The Other Worlds Educational Project - Vanessa Andreotti
    2. Critical Courses and Open Space at Carleton – Jai Sen & Mat Nelson
    3. ???
  10. Organising principles of open space
  11. Important Links / References on open space
  12. An Open Space Glossary

[1] Even more specifically, Teivo Teivainen of NIGD suggested the idea of our preparing such a Reader after seeing the Reader that CACIM and CCS had brought out in Nairobi for a related workshop on the Bamako Appeal (‘A Political Programme for the World Social Forum ? Democracy, Substance and Debate in the Bamako Appeal and the Global Justice Movements : A Reader’ – available @ (external link)