Through the looking glass: civil society participation in the WSIS and the dynamics between online/offline interaction.
Communications & Strategies, 58
(2 - Sp).
Struggles for social change have become much more complex and need to be fought at several fronts at the same time, on a local, a national, as well as on an international stage. In this paper the focus will be the international level and more specifically the tensions and lessons that can be learned from civil society involvement in (formal) multi-stakeholder processes. The case concerned here is the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and it’s preparatory process. The paper will critically assess the summit in terms of outcomes and process from a civil society perspective and the role of the Internet in that process. To do this, some of the results of a worldwide survey into civil society participation will be considered and will provide an indicative picture of the way in which civil society actors perceive the implementation of participatory discourses within a context that goes beyond the nation state and the use of the Internet in that regard. Furthermore, this will be complemented by an in-depth analysis of the Internet Governance Caucus and their mailing list. From the survey a mixed image appears whereby some perceive the glass to be half-full, others half-empty and some even totally empty. In many ways this debate can be related to the difference between 'what ought to be', paraphrasing Gramsci, and 'what is possible'. This tension between utopia and realism also exists within civil society. A continuum can be observed, going from those that think already a lot has been achieved to those that feel (much) more needs to be done.
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