The Challenge of the Global South

It is commonly thought that the idea of the Global South received its first major articulation at the Afro-Asian Conference held at Bandung in 1955. However, the genealogy of the idea is far more complicated, since Bandung cannot be read only as an endeavour to forge solidarity between formerly colonised subjects or to create a third path that would steer clear of both the West and what was then the Soviet bloc. Rather, the challenge of Bandung, one that not only remains with us today but if anything has acquired ever greater urgency, is to understand whether the Global South can mount an intellectual and socio-cultural defence that would facilitate the conditions for an ecologically genuine survival of plurality. Two considerations, as I shall argue, must reign supreme in any such endeavour. First, centuries of colonial oppression had, among other devastating consequences, the effect of eviscerating memories and histories of South-South contacts, many of which preceded the interaction of most countries in the South with nations of the West. One consequence of colonialism that persists with us today is that nearly all intellectual exchanges within the South are mediated by the West. A second related but distinct consideration is that it cannot suffice to understand oppression through the categories made familiar by liberal and Marxist analyses, among them racism, class warfare, ‘economic terrorism’, the military-industrial complex, and so on. Western social science, in particular, has generated a nearly insurmountable imperialism of categories, such that the histories and experiences of people in the South are interpreted through the templates generated in the Western academy. Is it possible for the South to galvanise its intellectual inheritance and socio-cultural resources to offer dissenting frameworks of knowledge? It is in these terms that the challenge of the South must be understood.

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