Capitalist Hegemony: The Political Challenge of Alter-Globalization

By Jessica C. Tselepy
2015, Vol. 7 No. 03 | pg. 2/2 |

The second key political challenge the movement faces is its absence of a feasible mode for a globalized and democratic political structure, rendering the creation of substantive political goals doubtful. While internal disparity exists within the movement, a key consensus appears in their search for democratic political organization. Democracy is conceptualized within the movement as a source of legitimacy, grounded in the principles of transparency and accountability: principles that the dominant capitalist powers are seen to lack (Masse 2013: 31). Numerous participants have encouraged the WSF to evolve into a clear-cut political movement so that they can make a “real political difference by altering the course of globalization” (Pickerill 2007: 2668).

The WSF’s official process stance remains, however, that “political projects that go beyond the Charter of Principles can be an attribute of the organizations that take part in the WSF but never of the WSF itself” (Ibid). While it is clear that the WSF’s primary purpose was not to produce a well-defined political structure, it is questionable whether it is feasible to achieve anything but the simple organization of a pluralist space for discussion.

When evaluating the potential for political structure within alter-globalization, the common conception of politics held by members of the movement must be addressed briefly. There is a general agreement that traditional party politics is not sufficient to epitomize a counter-hegemony that could transform global consciousness and awareness. George Monbiot (2002) has proposed that the WSF instead could become a part of the course of developing a “world parliament in exile” (342).

This, however, underestimates the fact that many institutions that are globally projected are entrenched in national political societies, raising the risk that they may “reproduce the problematic aspects of domestic analogies” (Bull 2002: 86). Further, the WSF cannot realistically be deemed a parliament in the modern, deliberative sense, as it does not address the creation of legislation (Patomäki and Teivainen 2005: 14). Given that attempts to reproduce domestic democracy into a global sense prove problematic, a key challenge for alter-globalization then would be to change the meaning of politics.

There are two caveats to achieving this change effectively. The first is to avoid a reproduction of the national political categories represented in the Western world towards the end of 20th century. The standard of polyarchy that triumphed in the West since the Cold War is as much of a pitfall as the polycentrism alter-globalization is currently caught in (Held 1999: 445). The second is to be mindful of the historical attempts to create political structures representative of humanity’s collective interests. The emergence in the 19th century, after the 1917 Russian revolution, of a one-party totalitarian state was originally aimed towards this goal (Patomäki 2005: 4). This circumstance raises a requisite distancing from the potentially authoritarian results of traditional left practices so explicitly demonstrated throughout the 20th century.

Systemic transformation will then depend on a reconstructing of popular consensus in an emancipatory, egalitarian direction to maintain reformation in numerous state-society systems. Given that this is presently not an agreed upon goal within the movement, alter-globalization still fails to capture the positions that were unlocked by globalization’s destabilizing impacts that are more freely conquered by dominant regressive powers.

The final political challenge that the alter-globalization movement faces is in the top-level approach of the Porto Alegre Manifesto. The points articulated within this document prematurely target institutions at the core of the capitalist system, rather than attempting to create a substantive strategy to unify the movement. For instance, the economic measures alone demand “debt cancellation for southern countries,” a dismantling of “all tax havens and corporate havens,” and a rejection of “all free trade agreements and World Trade Organization laws” (Fisher & Ponniah 2003: 267). While it is clear that these proposals were aimed towards the “construction of another, different world,” the movement here overestimates its own authority (Stephen 2009: 484). They risk falling into the trap of the “inflation of the scale or achievements of an embryonic movement” (Stephen 2011: 211).

Without establishing the grassroots cooperation that the movement professes to seek, any attempt to challenge neoliberal hegemony will reduce the movement to an easy target for criticism.

This is further demonstrated in a speech delivered at Porto Alegre in 2003, in which the nascent movement was compared with equal legitimacy as the ‘Davos-like types’ of the World Economic Forum (WEF) (Patomäki and Teivainen 2005: 153). It is not surprising that the WSF was inspired in direct opposition to WEF, yet insinuating that simply conceptualizing counter-hegemonic potential directly undervalues the very historical structure of dominant material institutions and capabilities they oppose seems wildly overrated. Striving for the possibility of change is important, but not when it comes at the sacrifice of political realism. Without establishing the grassroots cooperation that the movement professes to seek, any attempt to challenge neoliberal hegemony will reduce the movement to an easy target for criticism.

In conclusion, while the alter-globalization movement has inspired a global contemplation of the inherent flaws in capitalist hegemony, the political impracticality of polycentrism has left it unable to articulate effective counter-hegemonic collective will. By examining the movement’s lack of unifying ideology, inability to construct a feasible political structure, and its counter-productive attempt to implement top-level proposals, alter-globalization is revealed as a movement that requires serious introspection. By rethinking the conceptualizations, agents, and strategies of progressive politics, alter-globalization may prove eventually efficient in an era of global social transformation. The potential implications of the movement lie in the construction of a world emboldened to take action against a history of globalization overwhelmed by the power of multinational corporations. If participants can find a way to reconstruct political agency in a way that accommodates the essential diversity of a global movement, then the hegemony of common sense may be transformed into the counter-hegemony of good sense.


Allman, P. (1999).Revolutionary social transformation: Democratic hopes, political possibilities and critical education. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Bangura, Y. (1994). Economic restructuring, coping strategies and social change: implications for institutional development in Africa. Development and Change,25(4), 785-827.

Bull, H. (2002).The anarchical society: a study of order in world politics. Columbia University Press.

Carasik, L. (2008). Think Glocal, Act Glocal: The Praxis of Social Justice Lawyering in the Global Era.Clinical L. Rev.,15, 55.

Clarke, J. (2010). After neo-liberalism? Markets, states and the reinvention of public welfare.Cultural studies,24(3), 375-394.

Cox, L., Esteves, A. M., & Motta, S. (2009). Issue two editorial:" Civil society" versus social movements.Interface: a journal for and about social movements,1(2), 1-21.

Dahlgren, P. (Ed.). (2013).Young citizens and new media: Learning for democratic participation. Routledge.

Fisher, W. F., & Ponniah, T. (Eds.). (2003).Another world is possible: popular alternatives to globalization at the World Social Forum. Zed Books.

Funke, P. N. (2008). The World Social Forum: social forums as resistance relays.New Political Science,30(4), 449-474.

Gill, S. (2000). Toward a postmodern prince? The battle in Seattle as a moment in the new politics of globalisation.MILLENNIUM-LONDON-LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS-,29(1), 131-140.

Haufler, V. (2013).A public role for the private sector: Industry self-regulation in a global economy. Carnegie Endowment.

Held, D. (1999).Global transformations: Politics, economics and culture. Stanford University Press.

Holub, R. (2005).Antonio Gramsci: beyond Marxism and postmodernism. Routledge.

Ikenberry, G. J. (2005). Power and liberal order: America's postwar world order in transition.International Relations of the Asia-Pacific,5(2), 133-152.

Judt, T., & Lacorne, D. (Eds.). (2005).With us or against us: studies in global anti-Americanism. Palgrave Macmillan.

Juris, J. S. (2008).Networking futures: The movements against corporate globalization. Duke University Press.

Kavada, A. (2006). The ‘alter-globalization movement’and the Internet: A case study of communication networks and collective action. InCortona Colloquium(pp. 20-22).

Larson, E. A. (2010). At the intersection of neoliberal development, scarce resources, and human rights: Enforcing the right to water in South Africa.Honors Projects, 10.

Masse, C. (2013). Social movements related to alter-globalisation in Portugal: identities, praxes and mobilisations.

Mirowski, P. (2008). A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey. Oxford University Press, 2005, vii+ 247 pages.Economics and Philosophy,24(01), 111-117.

Mirowski, P., & Plehwe, D. (Eds.). (2009).The Road from Mont Pelerin. Harvard University Press.

Monbiot, G. (2002). A parliament for the planet.New Internationalist,342(2).

Patomäki, H. (2011). Towards global political parties.Ethics & global politics,4(2).

Patomäki, H., & Teivainen, T. (2005). The post-Porto Alegre World Social Forum: an open space or a movement of movements?.

Peck, J., & Tickell, A. (2007). Conceptualizing neoliberalism, thinking Thatcherism.Contesting neoliberalism: Urban frontiers, 26-50.

Pickerill, J. (2007). Autonomy online': Indymedia and practices of alter-globalisation.Environment and Planning A,39(11), 2668.

Pleyers, G. (2010). The Global Justice Movement.Globality Studies Journal,19.

Ramos, J. (2006). Toward a politics of possibility: charting shifts in utopian imagination through the world social forum process.Journal of Futures Studies,11(2), 1-14.

Ramonet, I. (1998).Geopolitics of chaos. Algora Pub..

Robinson, W. I. (2003).Transnational conflicts: Central America, social change and globalization. Verso.

Steger, M. B., & Wilson, E. K. (2012). Anti‐Globalization or Alter‐Globalization? Mapping the Political Ideology of the Global Justice Movement1.International Studies Quarterly,56(3), 439-454.

Stephen, M. D. (2009). Alter-Globalism as Counter-Hegemony: evaluating the ‘postmodern prince’.Globalizations,6(4), 483-498.

Stephen, M. (2011). Globalisation and resistance: struggles over common sense in the global political economy.Review of International Studies,37(01), 209-228.

Tittawella, S. E. (2008).Governing globalization in South Asia through a legal praxis of human rights, development and democracy(Doctoral dissertation, The University of Waikato).

Utting, P. (2005). Corporate responsibility and the movement of business.Development in practice,15(3-4), 375-388.

Wolford, W., Valdivia, G., Baletti, B., Rutten, R., Sadomba, W. Z., Chari, S., ... & Walker, C. (2009). Everyday forms of political expression.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

Antonio Gramsci’s interpretation and analysis of “hegemony,” its mechanisms, causes and consequences for the Left, is fundamentally an attempt to grapple with how culture and the “common sense of... MORE»
Imagine the vast spectrum of all the cultures in the world. Listen to the music—from the gentle drum beats of Africa, to the melodic didgeridoo of Australia, to the scream of the electric guitar. Taste the curry from India, the coconut milk from Thailand, the cheeseburger from the United States. Now imagine that all these... MORE»
Conceiving neoliberalism as a form of constructivism, an ideological project rather than a doctrine prefigured by ‘human nature’, illuminates a promising path towards countering its impoverishing effect on both the citizen subject and the ethos of democracy. This involves a concerted intervention at the level of discourse... MORE»
Globalization is generally studied as a process that extensively impacts nations and peoples across every aspect of society. Empirical and theoretical research largely focuses on this effect, seeking to discover the impact of an increasingly globalized world on the rights and circumstances of historically disadvantaged peoples,... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in Political Science

2022, Vol. 14 No. 09
This interdisciplinary paper investigates the shortfalls and obstacles to success currently facing the climate movement, examining issues represented by the disconnect between policy and electoral politics, the hypocrisy and blatant indifference... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 06
Two of the most prevalent protest movements in recent history were the Black Lives Matter and the #StopTheSteal movements. While there are many differences between the two, one of the most prevalent is their use of violence. Whereas the BLM movement... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 05
Strong linkages between autocrats and the military are often seen as a necessary condition for authoritarian regime survival in the face of uprising. The Arab Spring of 2011 supports this contention: the armed forces in Libya and Syria suppressed... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 04
During the summer of 2020, two fatal shootings occurred following Black Lives Matter protests. The first event involved Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the second Michael Reinoehl in Portland, Oregon. Two shootings, each committed by... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 02
In popular international relations (IR) theory, knowledge production is often dismissed as an objective process between the researcher and the empirical world. This article rejects this notion and contends that the process of knowledge production... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 01
This article explores the political relationship between nation-building, ethnicity, and democracy in the context of Ethiopia. It traces Ethiopia's poltical history, explores the consequential role ethnicity has played in the formation of the modern... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 01
The study examines the degree to which Xi Jinping has brought about a strategic shift to the Chinese outward investment pattern and how this may present significant political leverage and military advantages for China in the Indian Ocean Region (... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


The Career Value of the Humanities & Liberal Arts
Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement
How to Select a Graduate Research Advisor