The Possibility of Deterritorializing Democracy: Agonistic Democratic Politics and the APEC NGO Forums

By Doucet, Marc G. | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, July-September 2001 | Go to article overview

The Possibility of Deterritorializing Democracy: Agonistic Democratic Politics and the APEC NGO Forums


Doucet, Marc G., Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


Marc G. Doucet (*)

Since leadership out of this mess does not seem to be coming from the traditional places anymore--not from politicians, political parties, the church, or academia--it is up to us--working people, the unemployed, young people, old people, people of color, first-nations people--to take up the mantle. We are going to have to form the citizen movements in our countries and across borders to take back democracy in their absence.

Maude Barlow, opening the 1997 People's Summit on APEC

Deconstruction is something which happens and which happens inside: there is a deconstruction at work within Plato's work, for instance.... I would say the same for democracy, although the concept of democracy is a Greek heritage. This heritage is the heritage of a model, not simply a model, but a model that self-deconstructs, that deconstructs itself, so as to uproot, to become independent of its own grounds.

Jacques Derrida

The increasing frequency and scope of organized popular opposition to components of "global governance,, (1) has raised new and profound questions about the meaning of "international politics" and the democratic imaginary in an era of "globalization." If we are willing to accept that "forcing globalization's difference into traditional 'spatial' categories creates remainders and resistances that for political theory prompt renewed investigation of the concepts and scope of democracy," (2) then we need to address recent political events surrounding opposition to global governance with alternative theoretical vantage points. Such vantage points may provide us with a better understanding of what is made to work, and what is made possible, by the opposition to globalization and the state-sponsored international organizations that sustain it. In order to help develop such a theoretical space, this article will examine the opposition to one such state-sponsored component of global governance: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). (3)

For the better part of the 1990s, the APEC annual leaders' meeting was the site of opposition organized by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). One can perhaps draw from the history of organized opposition to APEC in order to better understand the possibilities that are opened in our political imaginary by other, similar, global social movements of contestation that have occurred in Quebec City, Davos, Prague, Melbourne, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and elsewhere.

In the case of opposition to APEC, NGOs were concerned with such issues as economic globalization, human rights, gender, labor rights, migrant rights, democracy, sustainable development, and the environment. For most of the 1990s in whichever member country of APEC the heads of state met, NGOs organized parallel forums, or "people's summits." (4)

Why would APEC provoke such political opposition on such a broad range of issues? In answering this question, this article will argue that APEC, as a component of global governance, is not merely an interstate economic forum; rather, I argue, if we wish to understand the reason for the opposition we must view APEC as a political site where a particular discourse on the social is deployed. This discourse on the social contains particular resolutions of identity! difference that are, like all such resolutions, antagonistic. NGO opposition in the form of people's summits is in effect responding to this antagonism. This article will further argue that, in responding to this antagonism, the NGO discourse of contestation opens the possibility for a deterritorialization of democracy. This possibility is opened through the discursive articulation of the opposition that one can find in aspects of the final "declarations" or "statements" issued at the end of the NGO forums. Although these openings are generally few and cannot be exaggerated, they are of interest if we are looking for genuinely new ways of imagining politics and democracy in a world marked by globalization.

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