Tag Archives: southern theory

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

Warning: Questions Ahead! Southern dialogues at the beginning of 2013

Southern dialogues are developing strongly at this moment in time, though only to highlight the significant challenges ahead.

The colloquium Diálogo Trans-Pacífico y Sur-Sur: Perspectivas Alternativas a la Cultura y Pensamiento Eurocéntrico y Noroccidental took place on 8-9 January, as part of the grand scale Congreso Interdisciplinario at University of Santiago, Chile. Latin America has been the home of particularly active southern thinking, inspired often by its indigenous cultures. The ‘south’ as a rallying call has been significant given the tangible counter-influence of the United States, to the immediate north.

The Santiago colloquium witnessed a change away from this previously combative north-south argument. The principal perspectives were from Chile, México and Argentina. Much discussion was given to the emerging relations with Asia, specifically China. Alongside this was the growing influence of Brazil across Latin America, reflected in the large number present for the parent congress. In the past, these south-south relations would have been flavoured by a solidarity against USA as the common hegemon. But now there is increasing recognition of a diversity of interests across the south, and the need to reflect this in a conversation which is not reduced to catching up with the North.

One tangible contribution of the colloquium was the title. The word ‘noroccidental’ literally means ‘north-western’. This refers more generally to Western culture in the North, rather than the top left corner of the globe. Such a term accepts that there is a Western culture in the South as well, particularly in countries like South Africa, Australia and Chile. But it differentiates itself from other northern countries, such as Russia and China.

Other emerging terms are ‘Euro-American’ and ‘trans-Atlantic’. The problem with these is that it uses the generic term to represent only one half—North America. ‘Euro-American’ does not include Latin America, nor does ‘trans-Atlantic’ feature exchanges with Africa. The challenge is to find an English equivalent of ‘noroccidental’. Would ‘north-Occidental’ do?

The plenary concluded with a call for a more global understanding of South, reflecting such developments as population flows through the North and the relational identity of North and South.

The challenge is to extend this dialogue beyond Latin America to engage with forums elsewhere in the South. There is much activity in South Africa at the moment around the book by Jean & John L. Comaroff, Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa, including the recent critical responses in Johannesburg Salon. In Australia, there is continuing reference to Raewyn Connell’s Southern Theory, as well as Indigenous Studies broadly taking on global themes.

The relative lack of connection between these dialogues is, of course, reflective of the condition of the South itself, as a series of spokes connected with each other only via a central hub in the North. Language is an added challenge. The convenor of the Congreso Interdisciplinario Eduardo Devés has developed his own perspective on the Southern condition through ‘periphery theory’, outlined in his publication Pensamiento Periférico, which is freely available in Spanish. The potential reduction of South to the condition of periphery is an important challenge to the broader historical narratives that it carries. To what extent the issues normally identified with South be characterised by the condition of distance from the centre? Such a perspective puts the historical conditions such as settler-colonialism into question.

Though the distances between the southern countries themselves should be identical to those separating northern countries, the ‘hub & spokes’ model works in a very practical way to mitigate against south-south travel. Many academics from outside Chile had to cancel their involvement in the colloquium due to higher than expected air fares. This is obviously compounded by smaller travel budgets for academic staff in southern universities.

The view looking out of University of Santiago, flanked by Allende and Guevara

The view looking out of University of Santiago, flanked by Allende and Guevara

Nevertheless, the University of Santiago is taking a lead in fostering south-south dialogue. In late October 2013, they will initiate an annual forum/workshop to ‘go full circle’ on the Pacific, looking at how a trans-Pacific exchange might be configured to include Latin America. The Asia Pacific is usually conceived as a domain exclusive to Australasia, East Asia and North America. But as with the APEC forum, the south-east arc of Latin America should be an integral part of that. ‘Full circle’ provides a focus on the Pacific as a space for multilateral relations. What would be the intellectual underpinning of this?

The time seems ripe for a major conference on these various strands of southern thinking. Given its position, hosting an international conference would seem one tangible contribution that Australia could make to this emerging paradigm. Alternatively, if it were to be held in a northern university, this paradox of having to go North to talk about South would provide sufficient material for a conference in itself.

One question that tangibly brings the condition of southern thinking home concerns the north-south asymmetry of the academic world. In particular, if someone had the prospect of an academic position in Europe or North America, would there be any value in remaining in a less well-endowed southern university?

Meanwhile, while waiting for such an event to emerge, four Australian academics have generous offered a summary of their work accompanied by a generative question:

As the Zapatistas would say, inspired by Mayan mythology, ‘walking we ask questions’. Thankfully, the path stretches out ahead.

Call for Papers: South-South Symposium (7-10 January 2013)

The symposium South-South Dialogue: Alternative Perspectives to Western Culture and Thought will be held as part of the Third International Congress Sciences, Technologies and Cultures: A Dialogue Among The Disciplines of Knowledge, 7-10 January 2013, at University of Santiago of Chile (Usach). For more information, see link: www.internacionaldelconocimiento.org.

In recent years, perspectives have emerged that contest the universal status of Western knowledge. Post-colonial thinking has recently been joined by new alternative paradigms, including Peripheral Thought, Southern Theory, Indigenous Studies and Decolonialism. Each posits the possibility of a knowledge that is particular to the South. This provides a basis for a south-south dialogue about alternatives or critiques of Western knowledge, involving researchers and intellectuals from non-Western regions (Latin America, Oceania, Africa and Asia).

Common questions emerge:

  • Is Western thought to be superseded by these new paradigms?
  • What are themes that are shared in common across the South?
  • Is the goal of knowledge for its own sake specific to the West?
  • How can we implement an ecological approach to knowledge?
  • Is knowledge relative to the location from where it emerges?

This symposium welcomes contributions to the evolution of critical approaches to Western thought. This includes reflections on colonisation, independence movements, notion of ‘Third World’ and ‘Developing Countries’, ‘Global South’ and neo-liberalism. As well as critiques of the West, this symposium aims to foster constructive alternatives that reflect the values of participating countries.

Expression of interest

The abstract must be sent to e-mails of coordinators with following specifications:

  • Deadline: 30 June 30th 2012
  • Length: 200 words maximum
  • Academic or professional status (PhD, Master, professor, field of professional activity, etc.)
  • Organisation
  • Send to: southdialogue@gmail.com
Final paper

The paper must be sent to coordinators´ e-mails with following specifications:

  • Deadline: 31 August 2012
  • Length: 15 pages (Times New Roman, size 12, double spacing).
Entry fee
  • Academics and professionals from research organizations: 95US$
  • Post graduate Students (Master or PhD): 70 US$
  • Undergraduate Students: 30 US$
  • Participants without presentation: 30US$

Southern Theory – picking up the gauntlet

Raewyn Connell’s book Southern Theory has attracted a great deal of attention in the field of sociology. As an example of the use of ‘South’ within a particular discipline of knowledge, it is worth reflecting on the responses. It has won awards and been the subject of many conference sessions, but it has also engendered some interesting critical responses.

Kerry Carrington Journal of Sociology 2008; 44; 301

Carrington welcomes Connell’s book, but faults it for a perceived sense of pessimism about change, alleging a debt to Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. But the review also reveals problems in the way the concept of South is received. Despite the broad concept of South to include countries of the Global South such as India, Carrington reduces it to a question of hemisphere:

Southern Theory provides the next generation of social scientists from societies of the southern hemisphere the intellectual foundation to break with the self-deprecating dynamic of replicating he globalizing social science produced in the northern hemisphere.

Crain Soudien and Carlos Alberto Torre British Journal of Sociology of Education 2008; 29, Issue 6; 719-725

Soudien and Alberto are quite fulsome in their praise.They describe the text as ‘profoundly generative’ and claim that ‘Southern Theory is a key text for the period in which we are living.’ Within their own South African context, they use Connell’s text to highlight the neglected work of Ben Kies. They claim that his 1953 lecture ‘The Contribution of the Non-European Peoples to World Civilisation’ is now worth revisiting.

Saïd Amir Arjomand ‘Southern Theory: an Illusion’ European Journal of Sociology 2008; 49; 546-549

Arjomand’s review is the most critical. He takes Connell to task for claiming a commonality between heterogeneous forms of knowledge emerging from Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Latin America. He argues that such a commonality cannot exist without a shared community of scholars. In the end, he defers to a single global community of sociology to pursue these questions. Nonetheless, he does acknowledge the contribution of Southern Theory towards a more representative discipline.

The creation of this new republic of social knowledge could be the work of generations, and one would need to integrate Northern and Southern theory. Our concern should not be with the ethnic identity and geographical location of social scientists and public intellectuals, but with comparisons of the concepts used to understand the phenomena and developmental patterns of the metropolitan and peripheral regions of the world. And we would need an enormous growth in the institutional infrastructure for the production of social knowledge in the global South. Along this long road ahead, Southern Theory should be considered the first milestone.

Catrin Lundström Acta Sociologica 2009; 52; 85

Lundström’s review is positive, though laced with various concerns. She does question the position of the author herself, as the synoptic point of view that can made the connections between disparate voices, who themselves are caught in their own concerns. This challenge awaits alternative ‘southern theories’ emerging from the countries that Connell looks to. Despite the focus in Southern Theory on gender, Lundström makes the point that the theorists it includes are almost all men. And she sees a risk that the North/South division too easily inherits the previous division of First/Third World.

Robin Peace New Zealand Geographer 2009; 65 Issue 1, 84-85

While Peace makes certain criticisms:

  • too much focus on sociology rather than other social sciences
  • missing some important women scholars
  • lack of reference to the renaissance of indigenous knowledge in Aotearoa/New Zealand

…she recognises the difference it makes:

It stimulated me to recognize the elisions and gaps in the knowledge that I take for granted, and to think differently about the global constructions of sociological knowledge… It places ‘southern’ names on the ‘northern’ lectern…names that embody rich insight and people who make strong knowledge claims but whose voices are most often a whisper, an echo or a silence in contemporary social science…a challenging and necessary book. 

Nathan Hollier Australian Journal of Political Science 2008; 43 Issue 2, 368-9

Southern Theory is a breakthrough book – for Raewyn Connell and for Australian and international social science… This text could also be seen as the latest step in her career-long attempt to identify the social, political and intellectual conditions in which a genuine, that is, genuinely democratic, dialogue might take place. Southern Theory should revolutionise understandings of the history, function and proper practice of social theory.

Responses to Southern Theory include not only formal reviews. Where do you put a book like that? In the Carlton bookshop Readings it was placed in the Indigenous section, rather than Theory. At the University of Melbourne library, it is given the keyword ‘Social sciences – Southern Hemisphere’, for which it is the only entry. Will there come a time when ‘Southern’ can become a subject heading, like ‘Western civilization’?



Generally, the reviews reflect a positive welcome for Southern Theory to the discipline of sociology. But there are issues to be dealt with. There is the question of balance, particularly in gender. But perhaps most challenging is the question of how ‘southern theory’ is to constitute itself as a field of discourse, so that it engages the very voices its seeks to ‘uncover’. That’s not just a challenge for Raewyn Connell, but for her readers as well.

Finally, as Lena Rodriquez from University of Newcastle remarks on the book’s Amazon page, Raewyn Connell ‘throws down the gauntlet.’

Interview with Raewyn Connell

Professor Raewyn Connell explains the thinking behind her book Southern Theory.

What were your aims in writing "Southern Theory"?

Fourteen years ago, when I began this work, I aimed simply to correct a historical error – the textbook belief that sociology was invented to explain the new industrial society of Europe. I found that the creation of sociology was in fact closely bound up with the cultural problems of imperialism (sociology originally concerned "progress" and centred on a contrast between "primitive" and "advanced" societies). Without intending to, this piece of historical research opened up other questions about the relations between social science and world society.

By the time the book was written, I had two main aims and one subsidiary. First, I wanted to show how mainstream ideas and frameworks across the social sciences, which are usually taken as universally valid, actually embed the specific viewpoint of the global North. I wanted to show in some detail just how this viewpoint works, for instance in shaping concepts like "globalization" or in the ideas of celebrated theorists. I wanted to show how the uncritical importation of Northern perspectives gives a strange twist to the way social science operates in the global periphery, in countries like Australia.

Second, I wanted to show that there are real alternatives. Southern theory isn’t just a pipe-dream, it actually exists – though mainly in texts that are not widely read. So much of the text of Southern Theory is a matter of gathering up social analyses from different parts of the periphery, and thinking about them as social theory – that is, taking them as seriously as we usually take Foucault, Habermas, or Bourdieu. I wanted to get names such as Hountondji, Shariati, Das, Nandy, Garcia Canclini, Mamdani, and others into wider circulation, and persuade readers that the debates they are involved in are crucial for social science. I wanted to argue that the periphery generates important issues and ideas, it doesn’t just receive them. I tried to show that in another way too, by discussing the land as a key issue for understanding society – an issue highlighted by the history of settler colonialism and the land rights struggles of indigenous peoples.

If I could make progress on those two aims, a third became relevant. I wanted to stir up a discussion about what a democratic social science would look like, if we thought about it on a world scale. Discussions about epistemology and the structure of knowledge usually happen in a separate box from discussions about globalization and world politics. But they have to be brought together, if the argument in Southern Theory is broadly correct. In the final chapter I have a go at that problem; it’s sketchy, but at least it’s there.

What has the response been, in the North and South?

It is early days yet, for reviews in academic journals; but the first that have appeared, a review symposium in a UK journal and a regular review in an Australian journal, are very positive. I have been invited to speak on these questions at conferences and departmental seminars – mostly in my own fields of sociology and gender studies – and people in the university world have responded with interest. The International Sociological Association is an important forum for me.

I can’t say that Southern Theory is a runaway best-seller, yet! There have been no reviews in Australian mass media, which disappoints me. But I think it is gradually getting known. A quotation from Southern Theory has been used by an artist as the theme for a poster, exhibited in Germany. The Australian Sociological Association has recently awarded it the Stephen Crook Memorial Prize for the best monograph in Australian sociology 2005-2007 – I shed some tears at the presentation. I have had supportive email messages from people in the periphery, who find the book helpful because it names problems that they also faced, i.e. it validates their experience. Some scholars, in the metropole as well as the periphery, are sending me papers in which they are already building on the ideas of Southern Theory in their own fields. That is particularly exciting for me, as I believe that the growth of knowledge is very much a collective work.

Of course there are criticisms. One is particularly interesting. When I gave a seminar on the ideas at a US university, there was criticism from one colleague who was disturbed at the risk involved. If graduate students were persuaded by Southern Theory to spend their time reading Shariati, Nandy, Hountondji and other exotic authors, they would be distracted from the business of learning the mainstream professional knowledge on which their careers depended. This is a real issue, I take it seriously. There are risks for social scientists in the metropole, in the kind of global re-shaping of social science that I think is necessary.

What do you think are some of the questions raised by the book?

One of the most difficult, constantly raised in critical discussions and reviews, is what is meant by the "South". I say several times in the book that there is no single Southern perspective, and in fact show that in great detail. But it is still a nagging question. The geographer’s "South" is not exactly the same as the "South" in UN trade debates, or the "third world", or the "less developed countries", or the economists’ "periphery", or the cultural theorists’ "post-colonial" world, or the biologists’ "southern world", or the geologists’ former Gondwana – though there is some overlapping along this spectrum. I mainly talk of "metropole" and "periphery", but there is enormous social diversity within each; recognizing the polarity is only the beginning of analysis, not the end.

It seems particularly difficult to think of Australia as "South" – though the name actually means South-ia – probably because it is a rich country in world terms, and likes to think of itself politically or culturally as part of the "West", heaven help us. Partly because of the dominance of the misleading concept of "globalization", which I dissect in the book, we don’t have well-developed concepts for understanding the power of periphery-metropole relations or the complexities of the periphery. So there is work to be done, understanding the economics of primary-exporting economies such as Australia’s, the culture of post-settler-colonialism, and the ways ethnicity, class and gender are shaped in the different societies of the periphery.

Another question raised by the book, at a very practical level, is how knowledge circulates in the periphery. Southern Theory is published in Australia and the UK, in English; and there will be a small edition published in India. There has been some discussion of translations into other languages, but no publisher has undertaken that yet. How would its arguments get known in Latin America, in Africa, or in China? Mainly, by the book being discussed by scholars in the USA and Europe! In fact, the best chance I have of the book becoming known in the global periphery, is if it gets used as a textbook in social theory courses in the metropole. The fact that we still rely on the metropole to circulate ideas around the periphery is a problem discussed in the book, and I don’t know what solutions there may be.

How are you following this line of thought?

Firstly, by discussing the ideas of Southern Theory in as many forums as I can, and trying to get social scientists to read the theorists introduced in it. That would be a success in itself.

Next, I’m trying to apply the perspective in other fields of my work. For instance in 2009 the second edition of my book Gender is being published, which makes more use of Southern research and theoretical work than most of the English-language literature in this field. I have been working on a global sociology of intellectuals, some of which lies behind Southern Theory in fact, and which I hope to sharpen up in the light of the book and responses to it.

Finally, I’m doing what I can to encourage other people, including students, to work on these problems. I don’t think Southern Theory is more than a beginning – a rank beginning in some of the areas it touches, given the problems of language. And of course it’s not the only thing in its field! There have been discussions of these and related issues in Latin America, in Africa and in Asia; so in the papers I write, I try to spread awareness of other texts and debates. The broader the process that unfolds, the better.

Raewyn Connell is University Professor at University of Sydney