Is ‘Another’ Public Sphere Actually Possible? The Case of “Women Without” in the European Social Forum Process as a Critical Test for Deliberative Democracy
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AbstractThis paper presents results of a cross-national comparative research project on the case of democracy in the European Social Forums (ESFs) process over the period from 2003 to 2005. The various progressive social movements engaged in the European Social Forums process try to construct “another world” and “another public sphere” internally within their own practices of participatory and deliberative democracy in public forums. This includes fighting discriminations against women in general and women from non-western European parts of the world in particular. I take as my point of departure the case of “women without,” that is women activists who lack financial resources and/or have problems participating in transnational meetings because of border or visa restrictions. In the context of the European, preparatory meetings to the ESF, these women are for the most part either migrants living in the European Union or women coming from Eastern, South or Central Europe. To what extent do the effective processes of decision-making in the ESF preparatory process include the perspective and claims of materially less privileged participants, in particular these distinct groups of “women without”? Based on a feminist critique of the Habermasian model of deliberative democracy, I discuss the quality of democratic deliberation in the ESF’s assemblies from the perspective of the networks of “women without.” Then, as a second step, I show how the strategies of these materially less privileged activists break discursive mechanisms of exclusion inside the ESF process and build their own transnational networks subverting the ruling discourse structure of the ESF.