Literary and Critical Theory Global South
Anne Garland Mahler
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0055


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 Non-Aligned Movement—to refer to economically disadvantaged nation-states and as a post–Cold War alternative to “Third World.” However, within a variety of fields, and often within literary and cultural studies, the Global South has been employed in a postnational sense to address spaces and peoples negatively impacted by contemporary capitalist globalization. In this second definition, the Global South captures a deterritorialized geography of capitalism’s externalities and means to account for subjugated peoples within the borders of wealthier countries, such that there are 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 geographic 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 deterritorial 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 mutually recognize one another and view their conditions as shared. The use of the Global South to refer to a transnational political subjectivity under contemporary capitalist globalization 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 postcoloniality in that it captures both a political subjectivity and ideological formulation that arises from lateral solidarities among the world’s multiple “Souths” and that moves beyond the analysis of colonial difference within postcolonial theory. Critical scholarship that falls under the rubric Global South 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 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.

Introductory Works

Included here is an introductory bibliography for those new to the concept and its history. Brandt 1980 and South Commission 1990 are the most recognizable development texts that first employ a North-South global divide. However, the framing of global economic and power relations in North-South terms has deeper roots in Cold War internationalisms, a history that is discussed in Prashad 2012 and Mahler 2015. Mahler specifically addresses the way this critical concept both draws on and diverges from postcolonial theory. López 2007 and Klengel and Wallner 2016 are the best starting points for understanding the Global South as a framework for critical inquiry. Connell 2007 and Comaroff and Comaroff 2012 introduce the notion of Southern theory. Dados and Connell 2012 is a brief but comprehensive overview of the concept and its origins, and Milian 2013 uses the Global South and Southern theory to make new interventions into both US southern studies and Latino studies.

  • Brandt, Willy. North-South: A Programme for Survival; Report of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1980.

    The Brandt Report—published by the Brandt Commission—is a series of recommendations for mutually beneficial cooperation between wealthy and poor nations. It describes economic disparity as a loose division between countries geographically located in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand and the liminal positionality of China and eastern Europe. Countries considered within the South generally mirror member countries of the Non-Aligned Movement.

  • Comaroff, Jean, and John L. Comaroff. Theory from the South: Or, How Euro-America is Evolving towards Africa. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012.

    This book begins with a nationally scaled understanding of the Global South, drawing an equivalence with the former Third World. Yet the authors eventually nuance this definition, explaining that “‘the label bespeaks a relation, not a thing in or for itself” (p. 47). It is ultimately “a spatio-temporal order made of a multitude of variously articulated flows and dimensions, at once political, juridical, cultural, material, virtual” (p. 47).

  • Connell, Raewyn. Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007.

    An overview of what has become known as “Southern theory,” which Connell uses to refer to the theorizing that has emerged from the world’s multiple peripheries since the second half of the 20th century.

  • Dados, Nour, and Raewyn Connell. “The Global South.” Contexts 11.1 (Winter 2012): 12–13.

    DOI: 10.1177/1536504212436479

    This article provides a brief introduction to the concept and its origins, acknowledging that the “idea of the South” was largely framed by Antonio Gramsci’s meditations on the “Southern Question,” which analyzed power relations between northern and southern Italy, and later by the Argentine economist Raúl Prebisch’s seminal contributions to Latin American dependency theory (p.12).

  • Klengel, Susanne, and Alexandra Ortiz Wallner, eds. Sur/South: Poetics and Politics of Thinking Latin America/India. Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2016.

    The essays in this volume, in English and Spanish, examine theoretical and concrete Indian–Latin American exchanges through the lens of South-South horizontality. The South, in this text, refers to “a complex geocultural relationship,” and Indian and Latin American exchanges are framed within the transnational movement of capital and peoples (p. 9). The introduction contains an overview and substantial bibliography on the concept of the Global South.

  • López, Alfred J., ed. Special Issue: Globalization and the Future of Comparative Literature. The Global South 1 (2007).

    The first issue of The Global South journal provides a broad introduction to the central issues surrounding the Global South as a conceptual apparatus. López’s “Introduction: The (Post) Global South,” is a seminal text for the field of Global South studies, and recommended articles from this issue include contributions by Arif Dirlik, Deborah Cohn, Matthew Sparke, and Jon Smith.

  • Mahler, Anne Garland. “The Global South in the Belly of the Beast: Viewing African American Civil Rights through a Tricontinental Lens.” Latin American Research Review 50.1 (2015): 95–116.

    DOI: 10.1353/lar.2015.0007

    This article suggests that the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, formed in 1966 during the Tricontinental Conference in Havana, presents a theory of transnational political resistance that is resurfacing in the notion of the Global South. Specifically, the shift from a 1950s Bandung-era Afro-Asian solidarity to a 1960s Tricontinental vision is parallel to a contemporary shift from postcolonial theory to the Global South.

  • Milian, Claudia. Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013.

    The first chapter, “Southern Latinities,” uses a Global South framework to unsettle the mapping of regional geographies—such as the US South and Latin America—and to disrupt how those geographies are simplistically coded as racially black and brown. Through tracing the ways that southernness and Latinxness overrun the geographic spaces to which they are assigned, Milian considers how southern Latinities destabilize the black-white racial divide of the US South.

  • Prashad, Vijay. The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. London: Verso, 2012.

    This book defines the contemporary Global South as the transnational social movements that have emerged since the 1990s to resist policies of neoliberalism. Prashad locates the history of the global vision of these movements within the so-called Third World Project, and specifically in the history of the Non-Aligned Movement.

  • The South Commission. The Challenge to the South: The Report of the South Commission. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

    The South Commission, announced at the 1986 Non-Aligned Summit and established in 1987, was chaired by Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and included representatives from twenty-eight countries. Its report is largely a follow-up to the Brandt Report (Brandt 1980) and frames the South as the former Third World. It critiques inequity between nations of the North and South and argues that South-South cooperation could help reduce dependence on Northern countries (p. 10).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.