Southern Theory

Southern_Theory_COVERRaewyn Connell argues that at its inception as a discipline there was no sense within sociology that ‘certain texts were discipline-defining “classics” demanding special study’ or that there was a particular ‘originating event’ around which scholarship need cohere. The approach was more encyclopaedic than canonical and, she suggests, the research focus of the early sociologists was organised around the theme of ‘global difference’ rather than understandings of modernity. Their understanding of ‘global difference’, Connell continues, came about as a consequence of ‘the process of economic and colonial expansion’ and thus was a concept bequeathed by empire, rather than ‘invented’ by those sociologists (1997: 1519). As such, Connell suggests that sociology needs to be understood as shaped by imperialism and as embodying ‘a cultural response to the colonized world’ (1997: 1519). It is this global sensibility, she argues, that then gets lost and requires recovery.


Her key text, Southern Theory, presents the thought of a variety of social theorists from formerly colonised and peripheral societies, including settler-colonial countries such as Australia. She argues that while data from the periphery have occasionally been included in the considerations of theorists at the metropole, it is rarer for them to make reference to the social thought or ‘social experiences generated in the majority world’ (2007: 64). Connell’s primary objective is recovering the ‘deep prior experience of subjection to globalizing powers’ (2007: 65), that is consequent of colonialism, and integrating the instances of social thought that emanate from this into more generally accepted genealogies of social theory. She argues that ‘the only possible future for social science on a world scale involves a principle of unification’ (2007: 223); that is, connecting ‘different formations of knowledge in the periphery with each other’ and with knowledge from the metropole (2007: 213).


Essential Reading:

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


Further Reading:

Connell, Raewyn 1997. ‘Why is Classical Theory Classical?American Journal of Sociology 102 (6): 1511-1557

Connell, Raewyn 2010. ‘Learning from Each Other: Sociology on a World Scale’ in Sujata Patel (ed.) The ISA Handbook of Diverse Sociological Traditions, pp52-65. London: Sage Publications.



What is the significance and contribution of Southern theory to an understanding of the global?

What is the relationship of earlier Northern theory to contemporary theorisations of the global?

Are Connell’s arguments about Sociology’s earlier global sensibility mirrored within other disciplines?

What is the place of ‘learning’ within Connell’s understanding of global social theory?


Submitted by Gurminder K Bhambra

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3 thoughts on “Transnationalism”

  • As a recent recipient of the graduate school certificate in African studies at ASU, my final drew from or focused in part on the settler narrative movement of the antebellum era. Despite the discovery of over 100 burials from this era that came to light recently, it was all treated in a quite troubing manner. Settler Colonial mentality was pervasive. It is clear, the slave labor narrative must be preserved at all cost. Local professional organizations and offices were disrespected and ignored as if the descended community did not exist. People wear the continuance of mixed relationships from this history and it is only now that they are finding their voice and their heritage in some cases. Global social theory is spot on.

  • I’m interested in colonialism,settler colonialism and decolonisation as it speaks to the original ownership of the land/country[?].
    I was interested to read ‘the tendency among some scholars of settler colonialism to treat settlement as inevitable, simultaneously relieving settler societies and states of the burden of reconciling with indigenous peoples, and placing the burden of accommodating settler sovereignty onto those same indigenous peoples'[above]
    I have been tentatively searching for references to the morality/legality of colonialisation,which could possibly have huge ramifications,and they are scarce.

  • Interesting. Could you please add Maria Lugones’s work in the further reading section please? She not only engaged with Quijano’s concept but revised it significantly to demonstrate the coloniality of gender. Thank you.

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