The Global South is a term that has been emerging in transnational and postcolonial studies to refer to what used to be called the "Third World" (i.e., countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America), "developing countries," "less developed countries," and "less developed regions." It can also include poorer "southern" regions of wealthy "northern" countries. The Global South is more than the extension of a "metaphor for underdeveloped countries." In general, it refers to these countries' "interconnected histories of colonialism, neo-imperialism, and differential economic and social change through which large inequalities in living standards, life expectancy, and access to resources are maintained."
Rise of the term
The first use of Global South in a contemporary political sense came about in 1969. Carl Oglesby writing the liberal Catholic journal Commonweal in a special issue on the Vietnam War, argued that centuries of US “dominance over the global south… have converged … to produce an intolerable social order.”
The term continued to gain traction and appeal throughout the second half of the 20th century. It appeared in less than two dozen publications in 2004, but in hundreds of publications by 2013. The emergence of the term is the result of a complex "historical and social process, [that] illustrates how the term has been charged with various shades of meanings."
Debates over the term
The development of the term "highlights the uncomfortable reality of previous terms." Most scholars generally see the term Global South more favorably than its predecessors "Third World" or "Developing countries." Leigh Anne Duck, the coeditor of the journal Global South, has argued that the term is better suited to "resist hegemonic forces that threaten the autonomy and development of these countries." Other critics and scholars like Alvaro Mendez (co-founder of the London School of Economics and Political Science's Global South Unit) have applauded the "empowering aspects of the term," "the unprecedented upward trajectory of its usage," and its ability to "encourage a reconsideration of developed countries' relationship to the Global South." Finally, the growth in popularity of the term "marks a shift from a central focus on development and cultural difference" within the Global South and instead recognizes the importance of their geopolitical relations.
However, some scholars disagree with the term. Some critics of the term argue that such "huge blanket terms" should be eliminated. Others have argued that the term Global South, its usage, and its subsequent consequences and implications mainly benefit those from the upper classes of countries within the Global South, those who stand "to profit from the political and economic reality [of] expanding south-south relations."
Furthermore, the geographical boundaries of the Global South continues to be a source of ongoing debate, with many critics and scholars like Andrea Hollington, Oliver Tappe, Tijo Salverda and Tobias Schwarz agreeing that the term is not a "static concept." Some like Rodolfo Magallanes have argued against the feasibility of "grouping together a large variety of countries and regions into one category [because it] tends to obscure specific (historical) relationships between different countries and/or regions" and the power imbalances within these relationships. Furthermore, he argues that this "may obscure wealth differences within countries – and, therefore, similarities between the wealthy in the Global South and Global North, as well as the dire situation the poor may face all around the world." Therefore, these scholars argue that the term should not be understood geographically, "connoting an image of the world divided by the equator, separating richer countries from their poorer counterparts." Rather, the geography of the Global South should be more readily understood as economic and migratory, the world understood through the "wider context of globalization or global capitalism." Beginning to understand the Global South in these terms shows that "most people in the so-called Global South actually live in the Northern Hemisphere."
Uses of the term
The term Global South "emerged in part to aid countries in the southern hemisphere to work in collaboration on political, economic, social, environmental, cultural, and technical issues." This is called South–South cooperation (SSC), a "political and economical term that refers to the long-term goal of pursuing world economic changes that mutually benefit countries in the Global South and lead to greater solidarity among the disadvantaged in the world system." The hope is that the countries within the Global South will "assist each other in social, political, and economical development, radically altering the world system to reflect their interests and not just the interests of the Global North in the process." It is guided by the principles of "respect for national sovereignty, national ownership, and independence, equality, non-conditionality, non-interference in domestic affairs, and mutual benefit." Countries using this model of South–South cooperation see the cooperation as a "mutually beneficial relationship that spreads knowledge, skills, expertise and resources to address their development challenges such as high population pressure, poverty, hunger, disease, environmental deterioration, conflict and natural disasters." Furthermore, these countries also work together to deal with "cross border issues such as environmental protection, HIV/AIDS," and the movement of capital and labor.
As Global South leaders have become more assertive in world politics, South-South cooperation has increased to "challenge the political and economic dominance of the North." SSC has become a popular political and economic concept today because of the recent "geographical shifts in manufacturing and production from the North to the Global South" and the recent "key diplomatic achievements" of several countries in the Global South in states such as China. These contemporary economic trends have "enhanced the historical potential of economic growth and industrialization in the Global South," which has allowed for renewed targeted SSC efforts that "loosen the strictures imposed during the colonial era and transcend the boundaries of postwar political and economic geography."
Neoliberalism in the Global South
Since the 1970s, neoliberalism has had a profound effect on world economies. Neoliberalism developed "as a marginal and somewhat eccentric creed of those who objected to the kinds of state involvement in the economy that had emerged across the North-South axis during much of the mid-twentieth century." That is, "Keynesian policy-making and welfare states of various kinds in Euro-America and import-substitution and state-led modernization in the newly independent states" of the Global South. Neoliberalism first became hegemonic in the North before spreading throughout the Global South. Whereas the aim of neoliberalism was the "generation and accumulation of incredible amounts of financial capital and wealth," scholars argue that it has actually "increased levels of inequality and poverty", especially in the Global South, and "aided in the dispossession of native inhabitants through privatization and the rise of finance capital both nationally and internationally."
Scholars like Mark Boden have noted that the "rise of Neoliberalism [in the Global South] at its heart [was] a response by the popular ruling class to contain and ultimately reverse gains [that] the left and popular forces" in the Global South had accumulated during the twentieth century. Boden argues that the "neoliberal project in the Global South was meant to shift the balance of power decisively in favor of capital."
The "curtailing of progressive principles and the growth of Neoliberalism aided in the defeat or marginalization of revolutionary and radical nationalist movements that defined the political movements of the Global South during the 20th century." In other words, Neoliberalism's success in the Global South "instigated the reversal of many key victories and concessions won by labor movements throughout the Global South." This happened primarily through the Structural Adjustment programs of The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In "collaboration with domestic elites" of countries belonging to the Global South, "these programs aggravated the underdevelopment of many countries in the Global South by pushing [for] privatization and [economic] liberalization." Furthermore, "cuts in public spending eroded the limited social protection policies that had been extended to popular classes, which in turn provoked widespread IMF riots throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia" as a result. The financial crises of the past decade in the Global South and beyond has often been named as the sign of the "failure of neoliberal globalization as a strategy for economic growth."
Neoliberal policies "ended key subsidies, reduced public investments in rural developmental infrastructure, extension services, and agricultural credit, and eliminated protectionist measures that enabled [oftentimes] small and marginal peasants to sustain themselves through petty commodity production." "Poorly equipped to deal with the exposure to neoliberal market forces," people were often forced off their land as a result.
Labor responses to neoliberalism in the Global South
Neoliberalism in the Global south was predicated on the "subjugation of labor" according to scholar Joe Sutcliffe. Because of Neoliberalism's adverse effects on labor organizing, which include but are not limited to "incentivizing de-unionization and increasing government hostility towards unionism, the potential for labor unionizing has been severely diminished in the Global South." Additionally, "the growth of workers in 'informal sectors' has further aggravated the capacity of workers to unionize nationally and globally [because] informal workers engage in economic activities outside of formal employment, often avoiding or circumventing state regulations." Because Informal sector workers account for a huge percentage of the workforce in the global south, "union mobilization in the Global South has proven increasingly difficult."
In order to counter the "effects and abuses of hegemony and neoliberalism in the Global South and overcome underdevelopment," labor movements in the Global South have had to construct "new forms of mobilizing" in order to achieve a "less painful form of the socio-economic development." Therefore, the curtailing of labor unions has not completely undermined the ability of workers in the Global South to resist the effects of Neoliberalism [because] "Global organizations like STREETNET International, for example, have emerged to defend the rights of informal workers across Asia, Africa, and Latin America."
STREETNET International represents thirty national organizations that work to protect the rights of informal street vendors. STREETNET and other contemporary organizations that have developed to champion the rights of Global South workers have also tended to organize around issues that go beyond strictly labor. They have grown to encompass issues pertaining to "land, social, and political rights" (and in some cases, welfare demands). Organizing around so many different contemporary issues has helped differentiate current labor movements in the Global South from previous labor movements. As a result, these organizations have become better suited to address the "growing conflict over land, political, class, and economic rights in the Global South."
The labor movements in the Global South over the last thirty years have been overwhelmingly focused on mobilizing a wide range of "subaltern groups, such as indigenous women, peasants, retrenched workers, and shantytown dwellers." These movements were often a response to and a rejection of "the extreme forms of dispossession, poverty, and inequality that have flowed from the shift to neoliberalism in the regions since the 1980s."
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