This paper analyses the experience of the World Social Forum in its five initial editions, from 2001 to 2005, all of them but one held in the Southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegré. Two main objectives are addressed: firstly the paper offers a profile of those in attendance at these events. Secondly, it discusses the permanent, albeit not clearly explicit, tension surrounding the event from the beginning, opposing those who would rather change it to a new political tool to promote traditional goals of left-inspired traditions and those, on the contrary, who would prefer to see the WSF as a new and innovative space for social diversity.
The paper consists of three sections. The first presents a descriptive characterisation of the event under its five editions, specifically focusing on the profiles, activities and structures created over time. It also discusses the importance of the 'Charter of Principles' and how the ensuing so-called 'methodology' has entered the scene and dominated the event. The second section describes the existing diversity that is a trademark of the Forum, identifying the main networks that converge in this process, the relations between diversity and collective identity, and the different positions that oppose diversity and the political efficacy of the forums. The final section focuses on the positions and conflicts in relation to the 'methodology', and analytically explores the growing visibility of this dilemma and its potential divisive nature; from those who advocate a more unified political action in the short run vis-à-vis those who consider that the World Social Forum is not a political party, but rather a space of diversity. It concludes by suggesting that this remarkable experience is most probably on the verge of rupture, given the mounting tensions created by these polarising perspectives.