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Addressing sustainability and inequality at a global level : how other worlds (may) emerge

Increased global interconnectivity has encouraged a prevalence of forums that seek to organise and facilitate action on sustainability and inequality on a global scale. A body of work has examined such global forums and the theoretical contexts in which they operate but there is little which examines the nature of engagement through these forums to address issues of sustainability and inequality. This thesis explores social actors’ participation in two global forums, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Social Forum (WSF), with the aim of creating more sustainable and equal worlds. It has been structured around four overarching research questions as follows. RQ1. What are the perceived relationships between dominant and dominated social actors in global sustainability debates? RQ2. How do different social actors perceive the global field as embodied by the two world forums? RQ3. How do different social actors perceive the struggle in the field, and the strategies adopted? RQ4. How do different social actors perceive the lasting impact of their own participation in the field? Using Bourdieu’s social theory, I propose that the research settings of WEF and WSF are enactments and representations of a global field of power (RQ1). In this global field of power, social actors use global capital, a form of symbolic capital, to define the doxa of the field, that is, the taken-for-granted assumptions about issues of sustainability and inequality that require response, how they are defined and how they should be resolved (RQ2). I discuss the tensions and dilemmas of social actors as they enact strategies within the field to promote conservation, succession and/or subversion of the doxa in relation to these issues of sustainability and inequality (RQ3). The nature and extent of shifts in the global field of power as perceived by social actors is shown, with the aim that such shifts will support the creation of other more sustainable and equal worlds (RQ4). The empirical material gives participant impressions of their own involvement, which has implications for the identities, roles and activities of global social actors.