Language and democracy 'in movement': multilingualism and the case of the European social forum process
Title: Language and democracy 'in movement': multilingualism and the case of the European social forum process
Author: DÖRR, Nicole
Citation: Social movement studies, 2009, 8, 2, 149-165
In recent years new cross-European protests and movements have developed on global justice and within the loose platform of the European Social Forum (ESF). One of the major challenges for transnational communication and grassroots democracy within the Social Forums is linguistic communication problems and the 'work of translation' required to create a democratic setting. In the willingness to provide open access beyond linguistic communication problems, activists and organizers involved in the ESF preparatory process therefore hold their regular European preparatory assemblies to the ESF summits within a multilingual setting. Given the potential challenges of working transnationally, and of multilingual meetings, the ESF provides a good case study to test whether such processes work effectively in practice in comparison with national social movement assemblies: to what extent is democratic discussion and decision making possible in such emerging multilingual meetings compared to national meetings in which the majority of participants speak the same language? Being interested in linking the theoretical ground of discourse and deliberative democracy to the subject of the emerging Social Forums, I have studied the extent to which democratic discussion in the sense of deliberative debate might or might not take place within the multilingual and Europe-wide preparatory assemblies in the ESF process. The findings of my comparison between Europe-wide Social Forum preparatory assemblies and those taking place at the national level in Germany and the UK show that the absence of one common language within the European assemblies, contrary to what one might intuitively suppose, does not reduce the quality of democratic deliberation as compared to the national context. Therefore, informal power structures and gatekeeping mechanisms frequently rooted at the national level of Social Forum processes, together with a lack of transparency and asymmetries of information, seem to have indirectly reduced the accessibility of European meetings.
Subject: Multilingualism; Social movements; Social exclusion; Deliberative democracy; Public sphere; Communication; Transnationalism; European Social Forum; Europe
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