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Keywords:

  • open space;
  • horizontality;
  • networking;
  • autonomy;
  • emergence;
  • movement;
  • politics

Abstract:  Drawing on my work in and on architecture, urban planning, and socio-political movement including the World Social Forum (WSF), I attempt to critically engage with the increasingly widely used concept of open space as a mode of social and political organising. Arguing that open space, horizontality, autonomous action, and networking are now emerging as general tendencies in the organisation of social relations, and that the WSF is a major historical experiment in this idea, I try to open up the concept to a more critical understanding in relation to the times we live in. In particular, I argue that the practice of open space in the WSF makes manifest three key movement principles: self-organisation, autonomy, and emergence. By exploring its characteristics and contradictions, I also argue that open space cannot be provided and only exists if people make it open, and that in this sense it is related to, but different from, the commons.