Part of the Voices of the Global South series. These articles are written by students and academics linked to the Centre for Global South Studies.

Emmanuel Leon, who graduated from Sociology in 2023, discusses what it means to be part of the global south and the importance of doing research focused on it. This article based on a short speech given at the inauguration of the Centre for Global South Studies.

When I am asked what it means to be part of the global south, I can tell you that as an individual it means nothing to me. I have come to learn I am from the global south when I came to live in Europe. Categorisations and little boxes overflow the global north, I agree that these are made to reduce us to more “manageable” groups.

It is similar with the label, Latino. Of course, I was aware of the meaning of it way before coming abroad, but it shaped no part of my identity or ideas of myself beforehand. As a friend and I agreed a long time ago “I learned to be Latino in Europe”. We are pushed to encapsulate ourselves in labelled boxes based on where we have been born etc. and allow these labels to determine our practices. After living in the UK for two years I have noticed how these differences are marketed and adjusted for better positioning of businesses, institutions and peoples as “diverse” and “cultured”. While there is talk about inclusion and diversity on the surface, deep down there is a layer of exoticism and fetishising of “the other”.

Pockets of the global south are present throughout the global north. Being part of the global south does not refer to only or mainly being allocated to a specific geography. It is belonging to marginalised groups, that are products of structurally unequal relations. I didn´t know I was marginalised until I was taught about it, I didn´t know I was a minority until I was taught about it, and I didn´t know I was part of a country in development until I was taught about it.

Being part of the global south doesn´t mean anything to me as an individual. But Global South as an identity marker allows us to criticise and better understand the unfair infrastructures of social institutions, dynamics and expected identity performances. We have been forced to internalise practices and ways of being from the global north which I, like many others, have experienced in the global south. Colourism, racism, internalised Eurocentric views, normalised unfair and unequal economical trade, marginalisation of forms of sexualities and gender nonconformity are among those. This internalisation and historical social traumas have many times made us to want to belong to the Global North or look like a person from the Global North. In short, learn, negotiate and perform our identities to pass as one of them.

Through empowering terminology such as the global South and North, we can find community empowerment and pride in our social, political and aesthetical regimes without observing them through the Eurocentric lens. This is why I think a centre such as the Centre for the Studies of the Global South is important. We need to reframe How we have been adjusted to think of ourselves using the epistemic regimes of others and to question how we create divisions depending on western perspectives. What is truly significant to our current selves? How much decolonisation can we obtain practically? How much can we heal? While being part of the global south hasn´t been important for me growing up, the more I come to direct contact with unequal structures and imposed realities, the term ironically and in a paradoxical way functions as a way of breaking a little bit more from systematically limiting identities imposed by the Global North such as being Latino.

If I am to leave an idea or an image; it would be that we need to think not only or mainly about whom we are sitting at the table of discussion with or who can speak and why. More importantly, we need to ask who built the table and why is the table even in existence. There is as much as we can do only by deconstructing and decolonising the minds of ourselves and others. We need to reframe the settings in which dialogue takes place and how it takes place. A centre for the studies of the global south led by people of the global south presents an important start for reframing who initiates the discussions, where they take place, and who participates. Changing the dynamics of discussion is what is truly impactful. Otherwise, this would be another marketing campaign to showcase shallow diversity numbers.