Reductionist gaze substantiated by labelling.


You would think that as a result of the increasing complexity in our world, we would be more careful with throwing around simple and basic views on the world. You would think the days of extreme dichotomies were gone. You would think the world would be approached with an appreciation for its intricacies. Well, you would be wrong.

I’m starting to hear more and more about the Global-South and Global-North divide. If you know anything about me, it has to be my distaste for arbitrary and meaningless categorisation which inadvertently leads to ‘othering’. I find it interesting that this concept of Global-South vs Global-North has actually stuck (or maybe even gaining momentum). Throughout history, concepts assume meaning and convey the aspects of societal thinking in apprehending the quality of ‘things’.

Before I get carried away, what is the Global-South vs Global-North divide?

The North-South divide is a socio-economic and political divide. Global North includes North America, Western Europe and developed parts of East Asia. The Global South includes Africa, Latin america and developing Asia. The north is home to 4 of the 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Yes, the five countries which have a disproportionate amount of power in making decisions for the rest of the world!

I think there are lot of problems with this concept of north and south divide. First of all; the very same ‘entities’ which talk about world unity are the first ones to put these lines of demarcation classing themselves as an elite group based on socio-economic and political power while the rest remain second class “citizens’ of the world. Secondly; I find it interesting how can you lump 90 odd countries into one large bucket and form a view of them as ‘one entity’. Nevermind that South Africa’s context is in so many ways very different to a Morocco, Egypt or a Venezuala. To me this is just another opportunity to class and conquer. The reductionist gaze leading towards the substantiation of this concept (north vs south) should receive push back and not be accepted. Substantiating this concept creates opportunities for the powerful to dictate the terms of engagement as they continue to present themselves as the official and final stamp of approval on all important matters.

The problem with labels is that they quickly become out of date, a lot of them are insulting and not to mention confusing. The history behind how the phrase; “the third world” came about is a perfect case in point. Not only is the understanding of the phrase far removed from what it previously served to explain, but it also has no clear category of analysis and often used vaguely and without much pre-thought. (You can read up more about this on this NPR article

Again, why should you care what or how the world classifies you? Because concepts assume meaning and are used to convey ideas around wealth, freedom, rights etc. Right now, as you read this, a small subsection (aka the privileged few) of the world is creating and defining terms which affect your freedom of movement, how you interact with your environment, your ability to acquire and retain wealth whilst also creating a powerful narrative for you - without your consent, knowledge or full understanding.

What or how the world thinks about you should not define you. However, you should have some interest or at the very least understanding of how the world thinks about you as this has real economic, political and societal implication for your life.

Nkgopoleng MoloiComment