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The Unbearable Lightness of Full Participation in a Global Contest: WSIS and Civil Society Participation

  • Bart Cammaerts & Nico Carpentier

Abstract

This paper assesses the involvement of civil society actors in the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) by addressing the dynamics between participation and power. A theoretical model combining Foucault's and Giddens' perspectives on power and resistance is applied to analyse the Summit and its participatory potential towards civil society. The acclaimed participatory nature of the Summit-process (in Geneva), including the preparatory meetings, is evaluated through a comparison of generative, restrictive power mechanisms and the resistance they provoke. Our analysis shows the importance of explicitly dealing with power and power (im)balances when evaluating participatory discourses, specifically in policy contexts. The WSIS process has made a valuable contribution towards increasing civil society's access, interaction and consultation in international regulatory practices, but the power imbalances are still too present to justify the use of the notion of participation.

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