Southern Theory

The term ‘Southern Theory’ can be loosely defined as a conversation that questions universalism in the field of social theory. It critiques the dominance of Western models by identifying alternative thinkers and particular issues that have been overlooked in the academies. It seeks to empower thinkers beyond the trans-Atlantic metropolitan centres to focus on experiences particular to their place.

While the momentum comes from social theory, there are ripples extending into other fields, such as philosophy and law.  In creative practices, ‘southern theory’ has resonance with post-colonial art, though this has been mostly limited to subject matter, rather than form itself. Post-colonial also tends to focus on North-South history rather than emerging South-South dialogues.

Though there are antecedents for Southern Theory throughout the 20th century, it has been energised of late by a number of key thinkers across the South (not counting the many other Southern thinkers to consider working in fields outside social theory). Below are some online samples of such thinking across the South.


In Southern Theory, Raewyn Connell argued that the discipline of sociology has been shaped by concerns particular to the metropolitan centres, overlooking experiences of those who are on the periphery or ex-colonies.

South Africa

The Johannesburg Workshop on Theory and Criticism based at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) includes a number of key thinkers such as Sarah Nutall and Achille Mbembe.

  • See volume 5 (2012) of the online journal The Salon. This features a number of responses to the book by Jean and John Comaroff, Theory from the South, which claims that new ideas and social practices are now emerging from the South.

Latin America

Boaventura de Sousa Santos helped establish the World Social Forum in Port Alegre, Brazil. He current heads a centre for southern thinking called the Alice Project in Goa, India

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