Tag Archives: southern theory

Researching South-South Development Cooperation | The Politics of Knowledge Production | 

Coming out in July 2019

This interdisciplinary book draws on voices from across the Global South and North to explore the epistemological and related methodological challenges and opportunities associated with researching South-South development cooperation, asking what these trends mean for the politics of knowledge production. Chapters are interspersed with shorter vignettes, which aim to share examples from first-hand participation in and observation of South-South development cooperation initiatives.

Source: Researching South-South Development Cooperation | The Politics of Knowledge Production | Taylor & Francis Group

Criminology, Southern Theory and Cognitive Justice 

In the contemporary world of high-speed communication technologies and porous national borders, empire building has shifted from colonizing territories to colonizing knowledge. Hence the question of whose voices, experiences and theories are reflected in discourse is more important now than ever before. Yet the global production of knowledge in the social sciences is, like the distribution of wealth, income and power, structurally skewed towards the global North. This collection seeks to initiate the task of closing that gap by opening discursive spaces that bridge current global divides and inequities in the production of knowledge. This chapter provides an overview of criminologies of the global periphery and introduces readers to the diverse contributions on and from the global South that challenge how we think and do criminology and justice.

Source: Criminology, Southern Theory and Cognitive Justice | SpringerLink

End of the South?

In a recent article for Thesis Eleven, Nikos Papastergiadis argues that “the idea of the Global South is now over.” From the optimism of Bandung, he traces a growing complex and critical understanding of “uneven development”.  As an art theorist, his focus is particularly on its identity in global events such as Documenta. His analysis of Okwi Enwezor’s Documenta XI and Decolonial AestheSis is illuminating, but his overall scepticism about the South as a framework is not as productive.
Of course, any overarching concept leads inevitably to homogenisation, which must be resisted critically. This critique can be useful if it leads to a more responsive framework, rather than a disavowal of the political arena.
The problem with Papastergiadis’ writing is that it returns inevitably to the personal. A reader would be forgiven for expecting some alternative framework or concept emerging from this critique. Instead, we have “a couple of stories about the South and narrate the difficult relationship between art and politics from a more personal perspective”. The two anecdotes are incidental exchanges regarding personal trust between participants in global forums.
In the Santiago gathering of the South Project, the South African curator Kwesi Gule spoke about the “lucky turkeys” who attend such events. He referred to the practice of sparing a turkey before the annual bird sacrifice of Thanksgiving, drawing a parallel with the fortunate exceptions of disenfranchisement that are lucky to attend such global gatherings. I don’t think this should stop us meeting, as the face to face live argument is so important for generating the kind of revelations that Gule made. But we should always be critically reflexive of our own position in speaking for others.
While such gatherings favour the bold unmasking of illusions such as the Global South, they don’t always take cognisance of the role these frameworks can play in sustaining hope and solidarity outside the seminar room.
Hardt and Negri show an awareness of this in their support for a pre-postmodern concept of truth:
The postmodernist epistemological challenge to ‘the Enlightenment’ — its attack on master narratives and its critique of truth — also loses its liberatory aura when transposed outside the elite intellectual strata of Europe and North America. Consider, for example, civil war in El Salvador, or the similar institutions that have been established in the post-dictatorial and post-authoritarian regimes of Latin America and South Africa. In the context of state terror and mystification, clinging to the primacy of the concept of truth can be a powerful and necessary form of resistance.
(Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri Empire Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001, p. 155)
Papastergiadis’ language is threaded with poetic phrases. He describes how “a new kind of `cartography’ is woven into existence: one that is constituted through the choreographic manoeuvres that interweave motion and mooring.” While enchanting to read, and particularly to hear, such a expressions rarely provide a proposition for thinking.
If someone is going to claim the “end of the South”, they should provide an alternative that can respond to the need for solidarity and understanding between peoples and their communities.
Perhaps instead, we can look at an end to the South in a purely academic sense, and seek instead for forms of action that can further the kinds of relationships that the idea of South inspires.


Papastergiadis, Nikos. 2017. “The End of the Global South and the Cultures of the South.” Thesis Eleven, June,
Raewyn Connell continues to provide for an engaged version of “southern theory” in her work with unions, gender activism and development of workshops. Bruno Latour’s Reset Modernity project is also an exemplary model of how academic practice can seek broader engagement.
Platforms for a more pragmatic use of the South can be found in South Ways and Joyaviva.
Image is from the Museum of the Constitutional Revolution, Isfahan, Iran

The call from South symposium – Slow down!

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 Criminology

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology have recently applied a southern perspective to the administration of justice.

Issues of vital criminological research and policy significance abound in the global South, with important implications for South/North relations and for global security and justice. Having a theoretical framework capable of appreciating the significance of this global dynamic will contribute to criminology being able to better understand the challenges of the present and the future. We employ southern theory in a reflexive (and not a reductive) way to elucidate the power relations embedded in the hierarchal production of criminological knowledge that privileges theories, assumptions and methods based largely on empirical specificities of the global North. Our purpose is not to dismiss the conceptual and empirical advances in criminology, but to more usefully de-colonize and democratize the toolbox of available criminological concepts, theories and methods. As a way of illustrating how southern criminology might usefully contribute to better informed responses to global justice and security, this article examines three distinct projects that could be developed under such a rubric. These include, firstly, certain forms and patterns of crime specific to the global periphery; secondly, the distinctive patterns of gender and crime in the global south shaped by diverse cultural, social, religious and political factors and lastly the distinctive historical and contemporary penalities of the global south and their historical links with colonialism and empire building.

Source: Southern Criminology

Theories of the South: Limits and perspectives of an emergent movement in social sciences

Theories of the South: Limits and perspectives of an emergent movement in social sciences.

Brazilian sociologist Marcelo Rosa has published an important critique of social theory (download), comparing the approaches of Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Jean and John Comaroff and Raewyn Connell. Though he singles out Connell as an approach that allows for alternative southern voices, he concludes from their differing uses of theories an inconsistency in the notion of ‘southern theory’. In reference to the French sociologists Boltanski and Chiapello, he describes this use of south as a ‘circumstantial project’. As such, Rosa is vulnerable to the same critique he has levelled at others in marginalising southern perspectives by contrast to northern theory. Diversity of approaches does not necessarily imply contradictions in the field. They can indicate a dynamic argument that is activating an alternative field of inquiry.

On the dangers of ‘reverse essentialism’

While Southern Theory continues to grow, there is a danger that it develops insulated from critique. There is the risk that its political mission focuses exclusively on distinguishing a separate form of knowledge from the dominant north, repeating the kind of denial of southern roots prevalent in the North.  

A recent article by Gregor McLennan from University of Bristol offers a critical appreciation of Southern Theory:

Sociology is often pitched as the social science discipline most obviously in need of postcolonial deconstruction, owing to its ostensibly more transparent Eurocentrism as a formation. For this reason, even postcolonial scholars working within the ambit of sociology are reluctant to play up its analytical strengths in addition to exposing its ideological deficits. Without underestimating the profound impact of the growing body of postcolonial theorizing and research on self-reflexivity within sociology, this paper points up some key ways in which the structure of comprehension within postcolonial critique itself is characteristically sociological. Alternatively, if that latter conclusion is to remain in dispute, a number of core epistemological and socio-theoretical problems must be accepted as being, still, radically unresolved. Consequently, a more dialectical grasp of sociology’s role within this domain of enquiry and style of intellectual politics is needed. I develop these considerations by critically engaging with three recent currents of postcolonial critique – Raewyn Connell’s advocacy of “Southern Theory”; the project of “reinventing social emancipation” articulated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos; and the “de-colonial option” fronted by Walter D. Mignolo.

He cites Santos’ caution against a simplistic North-South binary:

[Santos’] accepts that the register of South versus North, East versus West is a metaphorical one that, while effective as a ‘‘defamiliarizing’’ tactic, runs the risk of a sloppy reverse essentialism in which Europe and its traditions are treated as a ‘‘monolithic entity’’.

We are left with a challenging question. If we accept that the North-South division is indeed a generalisation, then what is its remaining meaning? It is possible to lay a similar charge with many oppositions, such as male-female, human-nature and capital-labour. The criticism doesn’t invalidate the opposition, but does caution against an essentialist reading of geopolitics. The opposition needs to be understood as a ongoing construction that is critically relevant to cultural trajectories, rather than something that occurs automatically when we cross the equator.


Gregor McLennan (2013), Postcolonial Critique: The Necessity of Sociology, in Julian Go (ed.) Postcolonial Sociology (Political Power and Social Theory, Volume 24), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.119-144