Early career scholars from the South-South Network shared their research and insights on inequality and legal change at a roundtable discussion at the Bergen Exchanges on Law and Social Transformation in August 2023. The event highlighted the complexities and challenges faced by scholars from the Global South while also showcasing the unique opportunities and perspectives they bring to the academic landscape.
Diverse Voices from Across the Globe:
The roundtable brought together participants from various Global South countries, including Brazil, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Guatemala, and Columbia. These scholars showcased the achievements of their network, which was founded the previous year through exchanges with PhD students and post-doc fellows. Their initiative received significant support from organisations and individuals, including LawTransform and GRIP.
The scholars’ research explored a range of pressing topics, including climate change and environmental justice, judicial responses to LGBTQI and indigenous rights, gender disparities, child marriage, and navigating access to justice within a multifaceted legal system.
After an introduction of the panel and the network by the founder Lívia Buzolin, Wesley Maraire started by elaborating on the challenges of accessing justice and the obstacles within the formal justice system. He emphasised that the formal justice system often fails to align with the normative conceptions of justice held by citizens. Wesley also discussed the advantages and challenges of being a global South scholar, highlighting the element of surprise as an advantage but also acknowledging the pressure to excel, and the challenges faced when publishing research outside one’s home continent.
Judicial Backlash Re-examined
Ana Braconnier discussed a collaborative paper with Adrian Jjuuko on judicial backlash in Uganda and Guatemala, challenging the traditional view of judicial backlash theory. She explained how they revisited the theory to show that judicial backlash can lead to autocracy and anti-rights consolidation in concentrated political and economic power structures. Ana also discussed the opportunities and challenges of being a Global South scholar, emphasising the opportunity to critically engage with professors’ works, collaborate with colleagues, and voice the true nature of issues in the Global South, which are often reduced to simpler narratives.
The Uniting Power of the Global South
Adrian Jjuuko highlighted the urgent need for improved communication and collaboration among Global South countries, revealing the stark imbalance in knowledge representation between the Global North and Global South. Despite the critical importance of their work, Global South scholars often encounter underestimation, undervaluation, and fewer citations compared to their counterparts from the Global North.
Larissa Margarido, specialising in the issue of child marriage in Brazil, underscored the importance of challenging conventional categorisations and recentering narratives. She championed the value of listening to the voices and experiences of people affected by child marriage, rather than reducing them to mere victims. Moreover, Larissa emphasised that Global South scholars have the unique opportunity to highlight the innovative approaches of their regions in addressing global issues.
Climate Change and Solidarity
Thalia Viveros-Uehara shared insights on the responsibilities and challenges facing Global South scholars in addressing the climate crisis. She called for an embrace of the diversity and solidarity inherent to the Global South. Thalia examined climate litigation in Latin American courts, emphasising the transformative potential of such cases in countries like Mexico and Ecuador.
Key Takeaways from the Q&A Session
The Q&A session following the roundtable discussion explored a range of topics, including:
- Reconsidering terminology: The audience questioned the utility of the “Global South” and “Global North” labels, prompting scholars to discuss whether they perpetuate problematic binaries. The audience encouraged the critical examination and challenged the labels imposed on them. The discussion revolved around the relevance of these terms, potential alternatives, and the need to move beyond such classifications, considering the complexities of power and hierarchies within and across regions.
- Methodological challenges: Participants discussed the challenges and implications of conducting research in their own countries, where scholars are often embedded in the communities they study. This approach may raise ethical and methodological questions, such as maintaining neutrality, negotiating internal inequalities, and balancing insider-outsider dynamics.
- The role of scholarly language and accessible communication: There was an emphasis on the need for scholars to make their work accessible and reconsider the language used in academic research. Participants highlighted how academic language can be overly abstract and distant from the wider public, making the communication of research findings more relatable and understandable to broader audiences a critical task for scholars.
- “Disobedient scholarship”: The concept of “disobedient scholarship” was introduced as a way for scholars to challenge existing norms and disrupt conventional academic structures. Scholars were urged to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in academic discourse and tackle critical issues directly. The discussion focused on the potential of scholars to challenge the status quo in academia by adopting alternative, innovative approaches to scholarship.
- Engagement with communities: The audience inquired about scholars’ engagement with movements and communities in the Global South. They were curious about whether academic knowledge had contributed to practical applications like expert witness reports, technical assistance, or anthropological research in support of these movements. The discussion emphasised the practical and tangible impact of academic work on real-world movements and the role scholars can play in supporting them.
- Reframing narratives and challenging assumptions: The conversation emphasised the importance of recentering narratives and dismantling assumptions imposed by academia and global power dynamics. Scholars were urged to challenge these imposed categories and strive for more inclusive and equitable representations. The discussion highlighted the necessity of scholars questioning and reshaping dominant narratives, ultimately promoting more equitable and diverse perspectives.
- Reversing the “Global South” stigma: Scholars expressed the desire to choose research topics outside their home countries without judgment, highlighting the need to redefine research norms. The audience highlighted the need to redefine research norms to address issues of privilege and identity, particularly regarding scholars’ ability to freely choose research topics and directions, regardless of their origin, without being confined by stereotypes or judgments based on their background.
The Bergen Exchanges on Law and Social Transformation served as a dynamic platform for scholars from the Global South to tackle critical issues surrounding inequality and legal evolution. The event’s discussions, punctuated by thought-provoking questions and insightful reflections, underscored the significance of global networks in fostering conversations that challenge assumptions and contribute to a more inclusive, equitable world.