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Definitions of Global South
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Kazi Anwarul Masud | Date:26 Oct , 2023 0 Comments
Kazi Anwarul Masud
former Ambassador and Secretary in the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh.

The Global South as a critical concept has three primary definitions. First, it has traditionally been used within intergovernmental development organizations –– primarily those that originated in the Movement Movement­­–– to refer to economically disadvantaged nation-states and as a War alternative to “Third World.”

However, in recent years and within a variety of fields, the Global South has been employed in a post-national sense to address spaces and people negatively impacted by contemporary capitalist globalization. In this second definition, the Global South captures a re-territorialized geography of capitalism’s externalities and means to account for subjugated peoples within the borders of wealthier countries, such that there are economic Souths in the geographic North and Norths in the geographic South.

While this usage relies on a longer tradition of analysis of the North’s Souths­­–– wherein the South represents an internal periphery and subaltern relational position –– the epithet “global” is used to unhinge the South from a one-to-one relation to geography. It is through this DE territorial conceptualization that a third meaning is attributed to the Global South in which it refers to the resistant imaginary of a transnational political subject that results from a shared experience of subjugation under contemporary global capitalism. This subject is forged when the world’s “Souths” recognize one another.

The use of the Global South to refer to political subjectivity draws from the rhetoric of the so-called Third World Project or the non-aligned and radical internationalist discourses of the Cold War. In this sense, the Global South may productively be considered a direct response to the category of post-coloniality in that it captures both a political collectivity and ideological formulation that arises from lateral solidarities among the world’s multiple Souths and moves beyond the analysis of the operation of power through colonial difference towards networked theories of power within contemporary global capitalism.

Critical scholarship that falls under the rubric of Global South Studies is invested in the analysis of the formation of a Global South subjectivity, the study of power and racialization within global capitalism in ways that transcend the nation-state as the unit of comparative analysis, and in tracing both contemporary South-South relations –– or relations among subaltern groups across national, linguistic, racial, and ethnic lines –– as well as the histories of those relations in prior forms of South-South exchange. 

Emergence of the Term “Global South”

The term “Global South” emerged in the 1950s but Carl Oglesby became the first person to give it a contemporary political use when he commented on the US’s dominance over the global South. The founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) also used the term politically. To better understand the term, one needs to know the social, economic, and political meaning of the north-south divide.

The north-south divide does not mean a division along the equator, but the line dividing the richest and the poorest countries on this planet. Global north, therefore, are the developed countries of North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania (The West, the First World, and parts of the Second World).

The Global South, therefore, includes countries in Africa, Latin America, and developing parts of Asia and the Middle East. Alternative terms for the Global South are the Less-Developed World, Developing Countries, Majority World, Non-Western World, Poor World, the South, Third World, and the Undeveloped World.

Usage of The Term Global South. The term Global South is a dynamic term that does not consider geographic locations, meaning that, members of this grouping who reach a certain development threshold may cross over to the Global North. Even in the Global North, some regions within the developed countries live in conditions that resemble the conditions of the Global South.

South-South Cooperation. After the initial references for the term, it has emerged as a unifying identity that politically and economically brings together countries within the Southern Hemisphere. This unity also extends to cultural, social, technical, and environmental cooperation in the framework called South-South Cooperation (SSC).

The main goal of SSC is to pursue mutually beneficial economic changes that unify the Global South within an exploitative world system. Within the framework, SSC respects values such as non-interference in domestic matters, non-conditionality, independence, sovereignty, equality, and national ownership. In the past, SSC envisioned using cooperation in order to address challenges like poverty, cross-border issues, population growth, disease, and war through the sharing of skills, experiences, resources, and expertise.

China-India Challenge Economic and Political Dominance of the West

One of the most visible products of SSC is the determination of countries like China and India to take over the economic and political dominance of the West in most Global South countries. Indeed, China’s trade and development cooperation with most African countries has surpassed the West’s cooperation with the same countries. This situation continues to give China a bigger voice and influence in the affairs of such countries.

Past And Current Debate About The Term Global South. Majority of actors in international relations favor the use of the term “Global South” as compared to other terms like “Least Developed” or “Developing Countries.” Indeed, most scholars believe that the term not only resists backward tendencies of global dominance but also encourages a rethink of the relationship between the Global North and Global South from cultural and development differences to geopolitical benefits and relationships. This school of thought aims at correcting the negative impact of contemporary global capitalism as well as colonial and neo-imperial histories that, as most believe, led to some level of poverty and inequality in the Global South.

On the other side, critics argue the term Global South does not benefit all countries in the defined bracket but only the rich ones within the Global South. In their critique, scholars believe that the developed countries within the Global South politically and economically exploit their underdeveloped counterparts within SSC international relations.

The third school of thought critiques the term because the majority of the Global South countries are actually located in the north of the equator, therefore, they do not feel attached to the term. Furthermore, the grouping of the Global South has no cultural, historic, or economic significance between the regions, but has developmental imbalances.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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