Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Unifying & Dividing Labels: POC and Global South

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I’ve written and spoken before about problematic uses of terms like diversity and inclusion. Today and yesterday, my Twitter has been filled with discussion of these two contentious terms: Global South and POC. I thought I should capture some of this, and clarify it in context.

The first (Global South) came up because I shared an article about the educational philosophy of Ibn Khaldoun (Arab, founder of modern sociology, 14th century). I’ll write a summary of that article later. But the thing that exploded was the article was part of a special issue on “Doing Southern Theory”shared with me by Sukaina Walji.

The discussion was branching all over the place, but one of the key things we discussed was whether Australia counts as global South (geographically it counts and scholars from Australia often count themselves) but obviously economically, culturally (as Anglophone and Anglo majority), many of us feel…not. Discussions w Australians before showed me they see themselves and their scholarship as often peripheral in academia vs North America and UK. We discussed where Turkey lies (this is also related to a book I contributed to that used global South in the title and we were discussing, a co-editor and I, which countries were contentious).

The most useful conclusion to this discussion was…not a conclusion, but a recognition of nuance that defies labels. This article shared by Leo Havemann is excellent and brief about why Global South is a problematic term (the article used terms descriptively linaccurate, homogenizing and geographically deterministic). We often use it to mean countries that have been colonized, are economically struggling, for example, but those countries don’t actually correlate with geography in that way. It is perhaps more useful to do one of the following (my view here, but others seem to go along these terms and also the article above). Either:

  1. Use the terms centers and peripheries. So recognize that some countries are global centers (dominant economically, culturally, politically) but within them, those at the peripheries/margins may live in conditions more characteristic of global periphery countries. Within periphery countries (poorer, less powerful), some elites are the center and may live in conditions closer to global centers. Obviously all of these are still binaries, there is a spectrum, and economic success isn’t always coupled with cultural or political domination in every sense (think Japan, China, Saudi Arabia?)
  2. Be explicit about what you mean. Instead of saying North/South or East/West… clarify what you mean in the context of your scholarship. I think one would eventually have to use a shorthand term in titles and such, but one can explain what we really mean. Which dimensions are relevant to our purpose.E.g. is dominance of English languag relevant, is internet access relevant, is GDP per capita, is gender equality, is literacy level? These questions also matter for funding decisions and who gets included in research. I am part of an organization that uses the term South Mediterranean countries and it kinda drives me nuts coz it excludes many countries of similar background (Arab/Islamic countries) just because it doesn’t have borders on the Mediterranean . It also confuses me about Israel because supposedly Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are “southern Mediterranean” but Israel is smack in the middle there and considered what… Western European??

If you want to follow the Twitter convo, it stated here and branched

Now onto the one about POC. This came up privately, after I tweeted about how Google scholar is recommending to me authors to fellow, all of whom are white males (first page) and still males (second page).

Now there’s an interesting discussion around how Google’s algorithm works to make these recommendations… but I wanna talk here about POC as a term because i said “white”.

I’m going to keep this quick, coz I gotta go, so I’ll include two tweets I used to represent two viewpoints about POC because I was always confused by whether i should apply it to myself when I’m not technically able to tick any ethnicity box in any application…

What do you think?

Added later. Some useful links shared on Twitter in reaction:

Are Arabs and Iranians white (this article explains the paradox of being counted as white but not being treated with that privilege):

How We Became White (on how olive-skinned Europeans were not always considered white):

And AAPA statement on race and racism shared by Paul Prinsloo

This quote picked out by Sherri Spelic

4 Comments

  1. (2) Except for the use of race, there were several other issues as well pertaining to the published research which, ironically, had ethical clearance. The following article has a link to the article as well as the petition – kfm.co.za/articles/2019/…

  2. I think I’m still stuck on the assumption that we can still do the work of seeing global privilege best at nation-state level, in the era of the internet. Nations/countries are such misleading containers.

    We need a different way of talking about privilege and disadvantage.

  3. Thanks for sharing these thoughts @Bali_Maha Last week a huge furore broke out in the South African context re an academic article focusing on a particular subset of the population using race. A reference was made to the AAPA statement on race & racism – physanth.org/about/position…

  4. I’ve been thinking about this too. My suggestion was “post-colonized,” but your point about clarifying terms in context is important. (Some of the countries mentioned as “global south” exceptions may be less “post-colonized” and more “currently colonizing…”)

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