Artists and writers from the colder climes of northern Europe have long felt the lure of the South of the continent. Goethe was revitalised by his encounters with Mediterranean culture on his journey to Italy. Nietzsche took flight to the south to begin his life anew. D H Lawrence sought the health-giving southern sun in Sicily and Sardinia.
Seasons, stars, settler colonialism: the nations of the south – Australia, Argentina and South Africa – have much in common. And the 2003 Nobel laureate for literature, JM Coetzee, is helping reframe Australian writing within this southern context.
The Epistemologies of the South symposium was held at Sydney University on 14 April. It received an extraordinary response. Some of the sessions were standing room only.
The event was convened by Raewyn Connell and Fran Collyerto bring together of scholars in the social sciences interested in the status of knowledge production in the South. The morning included brief presentations from Maggie Walter, Vera Mackie, Helen Gardner, Devleena Ghosh and myself. We also heard from those involved in the Arenas of Knowledge project (João Maia, Robert Morrell, Vanessa Watson, Patrick Brownlee and Beck Pearse), a collaboration between Brazil, South Africa and Australia to map social science publishing in the South.
The rest of the day involved group sessions and plenaries where experiences of working in the South were shared. “Speaking bitter thoughts” was encouraged as a way of understanding the experience of working in the university environment, particularly for indigenous peoples (this reflected the People’s Tribunal in Melbourne).
There were many interesting discussions about the knowledge terrain of the South. The universal nature of English in scholarly publishing was seen by many as inevitable, but it was felt that there should be more allowance for the difficulty faced by second-language speakers and for concepts that were not easily translated. The economic challenge for poorer Southern countries of subscribing to scholarly journals was also mentioned. While there are Open Source alternatives for publication, the unpaid labour in maintaining these needs recognition as part of academic work.
More generally, there was broad discussion about the overall framework of knowledge production. The accepted capitalist model of knowledge accumulation through data extraction and publication output was questioned. This seemed to leave little time to reflect on what is learnt. It also does not accommodate indigenous practices, which focus more on the reproduction of knowledge as a form of stewardship. Reflecting the work of Unaisi Nabobo Baba on silence, there was discussion about the importance of listening as a scholarly modality. Overall, there was a feeling that knowledge in a southern context should involve a quality of slowness that engages with the social relations at play.
Raewyn Connell felt the event had fulfilled its aims:
I was very pleased at the way the national symposium brought together different generations of scholars, and people working in different traditions of knowledge and thought. Good discussions went on right through the day, and I’m hopeful that many links have been made that will energise this major re-thinking of social knowledge.
Critically, the symposium resolved to establish a mailing list so that the participants can organise future events that will continue these conversations. It will be interesting to see how these conversations develop. The academic machine offers a ready-made system for accumulating knowledge in professional journals. How might an archive of southern knowledge be designed?
SOUTHERN PANORAMAS: PERSPECTIVES FOR OTHER GEOGRAPHIES OF THOUGHT (Bilingual: Portuguese/ English)
Edited by Sabrina Moura
Texts by Milton Santos, José Rabasa, Arjun Appadurai, Jean e John Comaroff, Joaquín Torres García, Artur Barrio, Cildo Meireles, Rasheed Araeen, Southern Conceptualisms Network, Moacir dos Anjos, Anthony Gardner, Charles Green, Geeta Kapur, Néstor García Canclini, Achille Mbembe, Sasha Huber, Ana Longoni
Conceived in the form of an anthology of texts, the book features contributions from various disciplines and offers a critical perspective on the formation of the concept of South. “Over the last twenty years, the South expands on a global level, configuring a map of historical and political experiences that have refused to keep within hemispheric lines. If its uses sometimes incur in the contradictions inherent in binary thought, they also indicate new and complex flows of economic, cultural and symbolic capital”, says Sabrina, who brought together works of artists Joaquin Torres-Garcia and Cildo Meireles, philosopher and political scientist Achille Mbembe, researcher and writer Ana Longoni, art critic Geeta Kapur, among others.
By revisiting essays, historical documents and manifestos, the publication presents debates previously unpublished in Portuguese — as the work of South African anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff on Southern theories — and translates into English reference texts written by Brazilian authors, such as Spatiotemporal relations in the developing world, written by the geographer Milton Santos in 1976 during his exile in Paris.
From the claims of non-aligned countries that gained strength during the Cold War, to the emergence of post-colonial thought and its critique, the publication offers an important contribution to the debates that question the validity of Eurocentric representations and narratives.
About the editor:
SABRINA MOURA is a researcher and curator based in São Paulo, Brazil. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and holds a master’s degree in aesthetics and art history from University Paris VIII and in cultural projects direction from University Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle. She is the curator of Public Programs of the Contemporary Art Festival SESC_Videobrasil (2013, 2015).
A wonderful act of scholarly generosity by Raewyn Connell:
We have just produced a written version of my workshop for early career researchers called “Writing for Research”. It discusses the nature of writing, research journals and how they operate, writing programmes, and related questions. It has a practical section on how to write a journal article, and a list of resources. It also has pretty pictures and some solid ideas about the social character of knowledge and the situation of knowledge workers.