Theory from the South: A Reading Group
The “Global South” is a working category today for a diversity of intellectual projects centered on the non-European postcolonial world. Many of us at Brown use it as a shorthand to locate our work. While this category is embedded in histories of empire and culture, critical thinking since the 1970s has already done much to “provincialize Europe” and interrogate the ways in which power and knowledge have been imbricated in the making of universal claims, institutional processes and historical self-understanding – the very tools with which we have been interpreting and engaging with the world. Now the task at hand is different.
Taking cues from Jean and John Comaroff, it is time to relocate the “Global South,” as not merely a field-site for study, but rather to “invert” the canon and return to it as a generative source for theory and for understanding the world as it is changing around us. This relocation, however, is not simply a new trend that follows as postcolonial critique arguably reaches its limits. It has a long genealogy of its own in anti-colonial struggles (Gandhi, Fanon, Tagore, and Al-Afghani amongst others) and certainly many of us use “Global South” as a progressive shorthand to refer implicitly to liberation projects, and to struggles for social justice that have challenged “North-South” relations across the globe. As we think about how to promote peace and justice in the world, a vigorous engagement with theory from the south should be an integral part of our endeavors. Anthony Bogues, in his 2012 keynote address to BIARI (a project that reflects Watson’s commitment to dialogues with the south), drew on the insights of Franz Fanon to argue for the importance of a “worldly hermeneutics of the human” in order to “...confront the world that we have created and to act to change that world.” (Bogues 2013: 28)
Thus we inaugurate an interdisciplinary reading group, entitled Theory from the South, to bring together Watson faculty with colleagues, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students from across the University, to read recent essays and books that “shake the ground” so to speak, and present challenging ideas from the global south. Each month, we will ask a scholar from Brown, or elsewhere, to select a text or curate a set of shorter pieces for the reading group. Any faculty or student at Brown interested in attending the discussion should contact the Graduate Student Coordinators for a copy of the text/s. Theory from the South will provide the reading/s to those who commit to attending the discussion.
This reading group builds on a prior group Empires and Cultures that was set up by Kerry Smith and colleagues from the History Department to grapple with the politics of knowledge, and which met for six years on a monthly basis in the South Common Room of the Watson. If you attended an Empires and Cultures discussion in its long life, we invite you to join us in its re-incarnation as Theory from the South. Most of all, we reach out broadly across the social sciences and humanities to those who want to read and argue and shape a community through ideas that reach beyond the specificities of “expertise.” Come join us this semester!