#IAS_NUQ examines Global South at inaugural conference

September 21, 2022
The inaugural conference of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South (#IAS_NUQ) at Northwestern Qatar explored the Global South as a notion and its implications on media, scholarship, and knowledge production around the world.
Leading scholars from a range of disciplines joined the conference – What is the Global South? Histories, Epistemologies, and Solidarities – and examined the various meanings of the Global South and how they affect understandings of societies, cultures, histories, and media systems in the Global South and across the world.
In his opening remarks, Marwan M. Kraidy, dean and CEO of Northwestern Qatar, said the conference served as an invitation to address global debates about the notion of the Global South. “You are here from a range of disciplines, a range of locations, trainings, interests, passions, leading scholars on the topic; you examine what the notion does,” said Kraidy. “Hopefully together, we can examine what it also enables, what it forecloses, how it affects our understanding of societies, of cultures, histories, but also of one another.”
The conference opened with a conversation on the emergence of the Global South as a concept following a wave of anti-colonial struggles in the 1950s and 1960s. Northwestern Qatar Professor Sami Hermez moderated the panel, which featured Sari Hanafi, professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut; Elizabeth Kassab, associate professor of philosophy at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies; and Anne Garland Mahler, associate professor of Spanish at the University of Virginia, as panelists.
In explaining how the term emerged out of the need for a common platform for dialogue in the post-colonial era, Kassab said, “we, in the Third World, spent a lot of energy in the first decades of the 20th century talking and measuring up to the West, and our interlocutor has been, to a great extent, the West, and rarely or not enough do we, as people who might have similar problems, speak to each other.” She added that, “the Global South is a direction of thinking. With whom am I talking? To whom am I writing? and with whom am I sharing my issues and research?” 
The #IAS_NUQ conference was held in conjunction with the Dean’s Global Forum, which featured distinguished historian, writer, and political theorist Prathama Banerjee of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi. In a conversation with Dean Kraidy on her intellectual trajectory, Banerjee explained how her upbringing, the idea of ‘the political,’ and her focus on linguistics came together to inform her understanding of the Global South, saying they help her think of the notion as a “non-place but a utopian imaginary” beyond the limitations of geographies and languages and as a facilitator of unmediated South-to-South conversation.
Banerjee also joined a panel on the second day of the conference on the histories of the Global South with Abdullah Al-Arian, associate professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar, who explained how Islamism fits into the notion of the Global South. Speaking alongside Northwestern Qatar Professor Hasan Mahmud in a conversation moderated by Northwestern Qatar Professor Banu Akdenizli, Al-Arian highlighted the issues that arise from examining Islamism through the framework of global geographic and cultural divisions.
“The way we have conceived political Islam as a phenomenon usually relies on a different set of theoretical concepts and a very separate and distinct body of literature that does not adhere to North-South division of the World,” said Al-Arian, who went on to stress the need for greater localization in our understanding of these phenomena and riding the histories of these movements. He added, “these experiences tend to be informed by a wide range of critiques that reject hegemonic divisions of the world, most prominently in the cold war division between east-west or communism and capitalism.”
A panel on epistemologies of the Global South featured presentations by Hanafi, Northwestern Qatar Professor Haya Al-Noaimi, and Yasemin Celikkol, a global postdoctoral scholar at Northwestern Qatar and was moderated by Northwestern Qatar Professor James Hodapp. Drawing from his research on the global political economy of knowledge production, Hanafi made a case to improve the working conditions of non-Western scholars for knowledge from the Global South to gain prominence.
“The problem is not epistemology,” said Hanafi. "We need to address the question of working conditions of knowledge production in order to work concepts like [the] Global South and how to acknowledge knowledge from the South."
In the closing panel, Nabil Echchaibi, associate professor of media studies and director of the Center for Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado Boulder joined panelists Mahler and Alex Lubin, professor of African American studies and history at Penn State University, to present on southern solidarities, moderated by Northwestern Professor Marcela Pizarro.
In reflecting on how the term Global South enables unmediated South-to-South conversations, Echchaibi said, “I just want us to be together, to support one another, to create networks and corridors of knowledge that are not weighed down by the logics of borders, checkpoints, and the compulsion to write back.” While the Global South as a notion unlocks many possibilities, he stressed “this doesn’t mean that I want to give capitalism, coloniality, [or] neoliberalism a pass, or that I don't want to ask questions of power, I just don't want to be a token of my geography, of my ethnicity, of the Global South."
What's the Global South? Histories, Epistemologies, and Solidarities is one of many programs and initiatives organized by the Institute for Advanced Study in the Global South. To watch the recording of the conference, click here.