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This article addresses open source software development and the open source movement and critically examines their utility as a metaphor for conceptualizing the new politics of networked organizations. We apply the open source metaphor to the World Social Forum (WSF), which in terms of its Charter of Principles, and its notion of open, horizontal and inclusive space appears, as a new form of civil society, to embody the ethos of the open source movement. We analyse the forums since 2001, up to, and including, the United States Social Forum of 2007, examining them both in terms of the ideal of open, horizontal and inclusive space and in terms of the practices of the forums in advocating for, and using, open source software. The article then argues that both the concept of open source and the WSF are embedded in the realities of global digital divides and the struggle over access to the digital means to communicate, frequently expressed in terms of communication rights. We describe the role of the WSF in advocating for those rights and mobilizing civil society. We show how the WSF and its charter, which challenges corporate power in the name of social justice, must do so using networks within a digitally divided neo-liberal system, which itself must be overcome if networked politics are to be fully democratic and inclusive. The article concludes that issues of power, conflict, hierarchy and exclusion must be taken more seriously by supporters of open source and the WSF. That said, we acknowledge the contribution the open source ideal and the WSF have made to revitalizing discussions of politics and the political.
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Keywords: World Social Forum; communication; digital divide; networks; open source

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre for State and Legal Studies, Athabasca University, Athabasca, Alberta, Canada 2: Concordia University College of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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