Explorations of Open Space

CACIM, on behalf of the EIOS Collective, New Delhi, India, January 2007

The proposal put forward here is to organise a Conference as well as a series of related preparatory and follow-up processes in India around the promotion but also critical examination of the key contemporary cultural-political concept of ‘open space’. Following on from successful workshops organised before and during the World Social Forum in Brazil in January 2005 and in Kenya in January 2007 and a series of publications and other related activities in this area during this period, we now wish to organise an intensive series of interrelated activities that will allow us, along with others, to comprehensively and critically explore and develop this concept. The Conference, and the otherwise largely India-based process, will in turn feed into an associated process that we expect will also open up in several other countries over this next year. We propose to organise the Conference, collectively referred to as EIOS3, near New Delhi, India, in November 2007, and to accompany this with a preparatory phase during April-October? 2007 and a follow-up phase during January-September? 2008. We are in discussions with organisations and institutions from many walks of life, and are optimistic that that they will agree to endorse and co-sponsor the Conference.


The World Social Forum, which is widely perceived as being an increasingly significant world institution in political and cultural terms, describes itself as an ‘open space’ for relatively free association and exchange of social and political ideas and experience. This concept lies at the heart of the WSF and, arguably, and in different forms, also of a great deal of emerging social and political institutions and process today – manifested in other concepts such as horizontality and networking[1]. In turn, the emergence of these ideas and practices has also been widely seen as being parallel to (and some say, a mirror image of) the emergence of cultures of networking on the Internet, and also of ‘open source’ software. In short, this concept is arguably central to society as it is emerging in many parts of the world and at transnational levels. The experience of organising the Forum in Nairobi in January 2007 has for many confirmed that this is as true of Africa as it is of Latin America and Asia[2].

In this rapidly emerging context, members of what have since then become CACIM and the EIOS (Explorations in/of Open Space) Collective first called two meetings at the WSF in Brazil in January 2005, and then, more recently, a major Seminar at the WSF in Nairobi in January 2007, to explore this concept. The first set of two meetings, titled ‘Explorations in Open Space’ (EIOS1 and EIOS2), grew out of a successful initiative led by Chloé Keraghel of ESPERTISE (Paris) and Jai Sen (New Delhi, and subsequently of CACIM) in 2003-4 to produce a special issue of the International Social Science Journal published by UNESCO entitled Explorations in Open Space : The World Social Forum and Cultures of Politics. This special issue attempted a deep and wide exploration of the World Social Forum and of the culture/s of politics it expresses and manifests, and in particular of the concept of ‘open space’ that It was published in December 2004, just ahead of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2005. (See http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/servlet/useragent?func=showIssues&code=issj&open=2004#C2004.) (external link)

Keraghel and Sen invited the contributors to the special issue to take part in EIOS1, along with some other special guests. Several participants went on to co-organise, with Keraghel and Sen, the EIOS2 workshops held during the WSF as well as other related sessions and events. Aside from successfully organising these ground-breaking workshops, this process also led to the formation of the EIOS (Explorations in/of Open Space) Collective), a network of mostly young scholar activists from many countries across the world, in the South and North.

CACIM then followed this first initiative with a second step, two major interrelated workshops at the Nairobi Forum, the first focussing on whether there is a need for a political programme for something as open as the WSF and the second titled ‘In Defence of Open Space’.
(For details see http://cacim.net/twiki/tiki-index.php?page=CACIMWSF2007Events.) (external link) The second meeting focussed on two contemporary forces : One, internal to movements, the rising demand for greater programme, and two, in the wider world as a whole post 9/11, the curtailment of civil liberties and freedoms purportedly in the public good, as manifested in the rise of the national security state, even in liberal democracies, and also in the context of increasing world alarms around pan-epidemics. The second meeting resulted in the agreement in principle among participants to collaborate in a loose but major international process towards the promotion and defence but also the critical exploration of open space as a concept.

Our interests at CACIM and in the EIOS Collective, in proposing the process and Conference put forward in this Note, are not restricted to the World Social Forum as such but more generally with the culture/s of politics underlying all social, cultural, and political movements, institutions, and processes; with the understanding, defence, and promotion of free association and expression and of inclusive practices; and with the development of new cultural-political ways of engaging with policy and politics – including the concepts of ‘open organisation’ and democracy as open space. We are thus as interested – in this proposed project and in general - in opening space(s) as in open space itself, and in cultural spaces and activities as much as in politics.

The theoretical premise for the EIOS3 process is based on an analysis that we are today experiencing a crisis of democracy where the legitimacy of historically-dominant political and economic institutions has increasingly come under challenge - but where simultaneously, the ‘open spaces’ that cultural, social, and political actors have fought for over the past century and more, in all institutions of society, are today also under siege.

Even as this is happening however, new modes and practices of democracy in movement, community, the arts, media, and society at large are being evolved. Activists, media practitioners, artists, academics and scholars, and others across the world are today working, through daily practice and also the articulation of theory and concept, on issues related to cultures of social and political organisation in society, and within movements, institutions, and civil and political processes in particular. Broadly speaking they are working towards constructing more inclusive, horizontal, and culturally sensitive cultures, practices, and institutions as a means to creating more effective and more truly democratic politics and societies. The cultural logic and form of networks, as well as concepts such as open space, represent some of these efforts to rethink and rework cultural-political concepts.

The EIOS process is an integral part of this wider process, and seeks to contribute to it. The first two EIOS meetings in Brazil in 2005 were followed by discussions over the EIOS Collective e-group and by similar smaller meetings such as at the India Social Forum (New Delhi, November 2006). Members of the EIOS Collective in different parts of the world have engaged with several directly related initiatives over the past three years, in relation to the World Social Forum and other expressions of the global solidarity and justice movement (GJSM) and also in other arenas. The Nairobi meetings were a logical next step, and we now have a call for a wider international process and strong interest in a specifically organised international Conference.

Support for the 2005 meetings came from Oxfam-Novib? International for the first and from both Oxfam-Novib? and UNESCO for the second. Related initial support for the establishment of a new webspace that now serves as a platform for the work of this initiative, OpenSpaceForum?, came from HIVOS India. Support for the January 2007 meetings and related activities has come from Inter Pares (Ottawa) and from Oxfam-Novib? once again.


The Overarching Goals of the proposed process – the Conference and related preparatory and follow-up activities in India :

  • To bring together people from different fields and different parts of India and the world to share experiences and to critically deepen our individual and collective understanding of the relevance, potentials, limitations, paradoxes, and contradictions of the concept of ‘open space’ in terms of the defence of civil liberties and of free expression and association and of developing new forms of progressive politics and social movement in different contexts and globally;
  • To develop tools for translating the conceptual and theoretical work evolved in previous encounters and activities for application and active exploration within more visible and influential spaces such as social movements, political processes, and educational institutions; and -
  • To deepen links and ongoing exchange between people and organisations active in this field.

The specific objectives of the proposed project include :

  • Searching out, meeting, and exchanging ideas and perspectives with activists, media professionals, artists, researchers, and others in India who are working in their different ways with the concept of open space or related ideas, with respect to the concepts the EIOS process is exploring, to assess how relevant these concepts are to their work, to find out what they feel they would like to contribute, and towards involving them in the project and process;
  • Critically examining how open space plays out in different social and political movements, including but not restricted to the World Social Forum, and in society more generally;
  • Attempting to articulate a loosely defined network or association for continuing collaboration in this field, and articulating a common and/or shared work programme for creating open spaces for critical action and reflection
  • Compiling and publishing a comprehensive ‘Open Space Reader’ and preparing a film on the Conference.

In short, this present proposal focuses on generating a process of activities around open space within India, punctuated by a world Conference that will link the India process to other related activities around the world. In turn, the Conference will serve as a platform for bringing together those who have agreed in Nairobi to work together on a wider, ‘worldwide’ collaboration in this area, and many others from around the world. Those collaborating are generating their own resources for their local and national activities and we are together separately working on articulating a proposal for facilitating this transnational collaboration.

Planned Activities [April 2007 – September 2008]

The process will start with a six-month preparatory phase involving extensive contacting of and consultation with others in India interested in exploring the concept of open space, in order to bring them into the process and to broaden our base for our activities; compiling and publishing an ‘Open Space Reader’; and networking between members of the members of the EIOS3 Organising Group in order to fine-tune and widely publicise the proposed Conference in November. The activities will include relating to other related ongoing projects within CACIM such as the ‘Hindi Heartland Project’ (opening extensive debate in generally conservative northern, Hindi-speaking India, based on books members of CACIM are involved with) and a Political-Cultural? Glossary that CACIM is involved in building and is separately seeking support for; seminars CACIM will continue to periodically call around issues of either open space or closing spaces, as in Nairobi, by itself and in association with others, including its Colloquia; and seminar explorations of cyberspace as open space, organised by CACIM with others in New Delhi and Bangalore[4].

The proposed Conference, taking place over 10-12 days, will be composed of five meetings. The first 3-4 days will involve a Working Meeting and workshop of the EIOS Collective (now expanded after the Nairobi meetings). The next three days will encompass a larger Workshop, an intensive encounter among members of the EIOS Collective and activists and others in India who we have found to be interested in developing and exploring open space as a concept. The next day will be used for, on the one hand, an Open Space India Working Meeting involving Indian participants who wish to continue participating in this exploration, and on the other, by the EIOS3 Organising Group to prepare for the final two days of EIOS3. This will be followed by a major open international Conference, over two days, among all the participants in the Workshop and all others who come.

The meetings, which will themselves collectively be both an exploration and celebration of open space, will all take place in a peaceful and creative location outside New Delhi where the deeper objectives of the encounter can be effectively addressed, the Sanskriti Kendra (‘Cultural Centre’). We plan to video-record the process and conduct interviews, with the idea of making a film on the experience. Finally, this will be followed by a working meeting between existing EIOS3 Collective members along with additional people drawn from the Conference, to plan out follow-up activities. To summarise :

  • Event 1 : EIOS Collective Working Meeting – 4 days – 15 people
  • Event 2 : EIOS3 Workshop – 3 days – 30 people, in all
  • Event 3 : Open Space India Working meeting – 1 day – 15-20 people, including 5 special host-related guests.
  • Event 4 : EIOS3 International Conference – 2 days – an estimated 50-70 people, in all, from all parts of the world, including 30 from EIOS3 Workshop and 5 special guests
  • Event 5 : EIOS3 Follow-up Organising Group – 1-2 days - estimated 10-12 people.

We are also considering the possibility of organising together with others, or getting others to organise, an ‘Open Space Film Festival’ and/or an ‘Open Space Arts Festival’ in Delhi parallel to the Conference, under a separate project.

The period after the Conference will involve the preparation of a film as well as a report or reports on the Conference; a continued but much heightened engagement around issues of open space in India, in collaboration with the widened network of individuals and organisations who we will have met through the Conference; and the bringing together of papers presented at the EIOS3 Conference, and other related documents, into a book on the subject.

The project proposed here therefore refers not just to a Conference but to an extensive preparatory and follow-up process, the compilation of a Reader, a report, and the publication of papers, and finally, also a planned film and a book on the concept and practice of open spaces (for which we may need to raise some additional separate finances).

Time Line for Project proposed

Preparatory Phase - April – October 2007
EIOS3 Conference, including report/s - November–December? 2007
Post Conference Activities - January – September 2008.

Likely Participants at the EIOS3 Conference

Whereas the participants in the first working meeting will be restricted to members of the EIOS Collective – presently, primarily young scholar-activists from around the world -, the invitees to the EIOS3 Workshop will especially include activists, researchers, media practitioners, cyberspace specialists, artists, and others in India - the country where EIOS3 will be held - working with or interested in working with the concept of open space, and similar people from other parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Participants at the India Working Meeting will include all those from the first three meetings who wish to continue working together in this exploration. Participation at the International Conference will be based on an open notice to be issued well in advance, and will also include participants in the previous Workshop.

We plan to specifically invite to the Working Meeting (1 day) and International Conference(2 days) certain select individuals from India who have been professionally associated with the host organisation CACIM during previous years with respect to activities related to open space (such as the organising of related meetings, the publication of books, the making of films, and networking) and to cover their costs.


CACIM – the India Institute for Critical Action : Centre in Movement -, which has grown out of Critical Action (CA), an experiment since about 2001 to critically support emerging movements, is an experimental initiative towards an informal association between individuals and organisations located in different parts of India and the world. Registered as a non-profit company, its goals are to encourage a culture of critical reflexivity in public work by creating spaces for fundamental research and critical reflection, exploration, and action in the field of motion and movement. We hope to encourage learning across disciplines and across culture, and to support and encourage all those involved in different ways with 'movement' - activists, researchers, professionals, artistes, and thinkers, both the more mature and young, and both from 'civil' and 'incivil' worlds - in our respective work as individuals and organisations and also in networks. Our present focus is on cultures of politics in movement, the exploration of open space as a political-cultural concept, and by exploring this through actions, the exploration of cyberspace as open space. CACIM sees itself not as an independent organisation but interlinked and interdependent, plugged into and learning from the world around us. With this vision, we presently conceive CACIM as evolving into a hub within networks among individuals and organisations located in different parts of India and the world. www.cacim.net (external link) and www.openspaceforum.net. (external link)

The EIOS Collective was originally a loose association of activists and scholars coming from all five continents formed after WSF 2005, eight of the seventeen being women, who agreed to work together on the problematic and potentials of ‘open space’. The goal of the EIOS Collective is to promote and carry out critical collaboration towards building and understanding new cultures of politics and towards developing and practising new, more inclusive, and culturally sensitive ways of working within movements, parties, institutions, and everyday life. This Collective is now in the process of being substantially expanded following meetings between some participants in the WSF Nairobi meetings, especially from South Africa, Brazil, and Germany.

The meeting will be organised and hosted on behalf of the EIOS Collective by CACIM, a non-profit organisation based in New Delhi, India, in collaboration with the following members of the EIOS3 Organising Group : Isabelle Biagiotti, Editor, Le Courrier de la Planète, Paris (France); Giuseppe Caruso, Sicily, and SOAS, London (UK); Emma Dowling, University of London (UK); Jeff Juris, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Arizona State University, Phoenix (USA); Michal Osterweil, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (USA); and Geoffrey Pleyers, University of Louvain (Belgium), the Centre d’Analyse et d’Intervention Sociologiques (Paris), and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Global Governance (London School of Economics). (To be expanded by including participants in the January 2007 meetings in Nairobi.)

  1. The World Social Forum is an extraordinary and now worldwide celebration of the exploration of experience and knowledges, arguably as an organic expression of human beings as a species. For this argument, see : Jai Sen, March 2006 – ‘Understanding the World Social Forum : The WSF as an Emergent Learning Process - Notes on the Dynamics of Change’, in Mainstream (New Delhi), March 25 2006, pp 9-24. Available at http://www.openspaceforum.net/twiki/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=34; forthcoming in edited form in Futures. Also : Rodrigo Nunes, November 2006 – ‘Nothing is what democracy looks like : Openness, horizontality and the movement of movements’, on Interactivist Info Exchange - Collaborative Authorship, Collective Intelligence
http://info.interactivist.net/ (external link), @ http://info.interactivist.net/article.pl?sid=06/11/21/2032250 (external link).
  2. For a repository of articles, opinions, and essays on the recent Forum and beyond, see the archives of a listserve maintained by CACIM on behalf of the EIOS Collective, WSFDiscuss, @ http://openspaceforum.net/pipermail/worldsocialforum-discuss_openspaceforum.net/.
  3. Several proposals have already come forward for organising complementary activities in different parts of the world. These include a proposal by the Freedom of Expression Institute in South Africa to put together a photo-book around open space and freedom of expression at the World Social Forum, and a proposal by German activist Dorothea Haerlin to organise a two-day workshop on open space in Germany in early June 2007.
  4. For a summary of activities by CACIM and/or its associates in relation to the issue of open space, see the attached document ‘CACIM in and on Open Space’.