Global South is a geopolitical, not geographic, term that is increasingly used. In non-Western English-speaking countries such as India, the Philippines or South Africa it is already in common use. It refers to a heterogeneous world reality that, despite being characterized by common denominators, also has imprecise contours and is subject to uses that are not always consistent. Furthermore, its semantic dynamism and its diversified cultural reception, instead of simplifying its standardization, make it susceptible to controversial instrumentalizations.
Its frequency of journalistic use tends to increase when events such as the UN General Assembly or summits of blocs such as the Group of 77 or the BRICS approach. In an article published last week by the Financial Times, British columnist Alan Beattie suggested stopping using it, both in news language and in analytical jargon. But continuing to use it makes a lot of sense: it is neither snobbery, because it has roots, nor is it disconnected from reality, because it refers to an identifiable universe that gains weight in the world.
Global South refers, in fact, to a set of countries, geographically and culturally heterogeneous – to the point that many are in the Northern Hemisphere – which, however, share two fundamental traits: they suffered colonization processes at some point ( some especially traumatic) and feel ignored in the distribution of resources and in the decision-making that characterize the contemporary world system. It is not, therefore, a classic regional bloc but rather the linguistic expression of an emerging geopolitical reality.
The concept in question is also linked to a long tradition of thought that goes far beyond the first time it was literally used, in 1969. Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell, author of ‘Southern Theory’ (2007), traces this tradition back to ‘La questione meridionale’, an essay written by the Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci in 1926 and also establishes connections with a whole series of concepts successively problematized by the social sciences: center/periphery; North South; East West; development/underdevelopment…
The common denominator of all these concepts – including the most recent, ‘Global South’ – is that its enunciation represents an amendment to harmonious conceptions of the world-system, human development and social well-being. The same can be said, in our contemporary times, of another familiar neologism in very common use, Globalization. In fact, in the face of idealistic hegemonic conceptions, which tend to relativize cleavages, demonstrable distributive malaises are revealed, a symptom of a polarized world reality.
Not by chance, in the countries of the Global South they tend to dislike other definitions that are supposed to also refer to that same universe: ‘developing countries’, ’emerging markets’ or the now outmoded and politically incorrect, ‘Third World’. In these three cases, observations are made, similar to those of Beattie, but inverse: it is argued that these are terms that refer to heterogeneous and imprecise realities and that they are also often subjected to instrumentalizations, not only inconsistent but even derogatory…
‘Global South’ is also the term with which many countries feel increasingly comfortable when talked about in the international framework. To express it in more poetic terms, it could be one of the answers to the question with which the Indian philosopher Gayatri Spivak starts all her intellectual reflection: Can the subaltern speak? Well, he does and apparently she expresses that this is what he likes to be called because that term establishes a line of distinction with the former colonizers or with those who benefit from Globalization.
On the other hand, speaking of former colonizers, Global South also has many similarities with another term frequently used in international politics: the West. It is, also in that case, a concept that generates geopolitical and cultural identity that represents countries in a geographical area with again imprecise contours, with which there are also many other countries in the world – such as Latin America – that do not feel identified. This shows that imprecise concepts like the Global South are not, in reality, so exceptional.
And they are not because both terms refer, as has already been mentioned, to the political use of geographical concepts, that is, to geopolitics. In fact, that is what explains why one of the great symbolic representatives of the Global South is India or that, in just over thirty years, the majority of ‘Eastern’ European countries have become undoubtedly ‘Western’. Also, that a country like China, with the second GDP in the world, is considered Global South or that Japan, eastern, is usually classified in the Western bloc.
The BRICS are a very different thing, as was the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War. In both cases these are geopolitical terms, although they are also tangible institutional realities and, therefore, international actors built on an identity that, today, emanates from the diffuse idea of the Global South, a true reference. It is difficult to think, in a context like this, that the laudable intention of putting an end to inaccuracies and inconsistencies when describing and problematizing our world involves stopping writing the term in question.
Juan Agulló is a doctor in Sociology. Latin Americanist, professor/researcher at UNILA (Brazil). @JAgulloF
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits
#Global #South #geopolitics