Decolonizing Knowledge in the Global South – Launch of Knowledge and Global Power

21 August 2019 | Story Robert Morrell. Photos Supplied. Read time 3 min.
Robert Morrell with Professor Francis Nyamnjoh (Social Anthropology, UCT), Veronica Klipp (Wits University Press) and Dr Colin Darch (Democratic Rights and Governance Unit) at the UCT book launch.
Robert Morrell with Professor Francis Nyamnjoh (Social Anthropology, UCT), Veronica Klipp (Wits University Press) and Dr Colin Darch (Democratic Rights and Governance Unit) at the UCT book launch.

A new book, Knowledge and Global Power, reveals the contours of academic research production showing that the global North is dominant but that Southern agency is particularly evident in new areas of research where there is an urgency to address social inequality.

Knowledge is not neutral, it is always written within a context and resource inequalities impact on how knowledge is produced, distributed and consumed. Southern theory as a concept seeks to capture these truths and now a new book, Knowledge and Global Power, has mapped the new global knowledge landscape. Authored by Fran Collyer and Raewyn Connell (University of Sydney), Joao Maia (Centre for Research and Documentation of Contemporary History of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro) and Robert Morrell, the book shows that the Global North remains massively dominant in terms of the conventional metric – citations - used to measure research impact. The vast majority of articles are produced in North America and Europe, with US and the UK generally identified as the top two producers of knowledge in any selected category.

Decolonizing Knowledge in the Global South
Robert Morrell and Professor Relebohile Moletsane, guest speaker, at the book launch at Ike’s book shop in Durban.

In two book launches – in Cape Town and Durban – Robert Morrell spoke about how critical studies of the geopolitics of knowledge are showing how knowledge is produced and how working in the Global South influences the shape of knowledge. But are knowledge production patterns static? The book seeks answers to this question by examining three new knowledge domains – areas of research which date from the late 1970s or 80s – HIV and AIDS, climate change and gender. In these areas, it was hypothesized, it might be possible to see new patterns since the dominance of the global North is most evident in the traditional disciplines established in the 19th century or earlier.

Decolonizing Knowledge in the Global South

The funding for this ambitious project was provided by the Australian Research Council. The methodology was to examine knowledge production in three major Southern knowledge-producing countries – South Africa, Brazil and Australia (each the largest producer in their region/continent). In each country, interviews with researchers (over 70 in number) were conducted. An ethnography was conducted in a research centre in each country and finally, a quantitative study using Web of Science was conducted to measure research outputs in the new knowledge domains.

The conclusions are important. They show that even in these new knowledge domains, the US and UK are dominant. But they also show that Australia, Brazil and South Africa are major players in knowledge production. South Africa produces the third most HIV and AIDS articles in the world, in other words punching well beyond its weight. How do we explain the impact of Southern researchers? Despite operating in environments that are generally not as well-resourced as Northern institutional environments, Southern researchers are often driven by forms of activism that breath energy into research endeavour. Southern research is often connected closely to immediate social, health and environmental problems and there is therefore an urgency in the ways that research problems are tackled that gives local researchers an edge over people working at distance from the problems that they are tackling.

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