Introduction

As the Dreamliner Jet soared through the crystalline night, I found myself reflecting on the transformative experiences of the recently concluded Global South Caucus for International Studies (GSCIS) of the International Studies Association’s (ISA’s) regional conference held in Bangkok, Thailand.1 I was flying from Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, across the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean. The 2023 conference—which took place virtually on December 15th and in-person at Thammasat University in Bangkok from December 18th to 20th—invigorated me. I gained new insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by scholars based in the Global South. Not to mention that Bangkok is a clean, modern, and industrialized city, with weather that is just as warm and hospitable as the inhabitants.

One of the Entrances to Thammasat University, Bangkok. Image Courtesy of Susan Kung’u.
One of the Entrances to Thammasat University, Bangkok. Image Courtesy of Susan Kung’u

Thammasat University is nestled in the heart of Bangkok. The university is renowned for its world-class standards and unwavering commitment to public interest and advancing knowledge. It turned out to be an exceptional venue for this gathering of international scholars engaged in discourse on reshaping global governance structures in the dynamic landscape of the Global South.

The Global South Caucus for International Studies (GSCIS), encompassing scholars from Africa, Eurasia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North Africa, South/Southeast Asia, and the Pacific, organized the conference. The GSCIS seeks to facilitate knowledge exchange, support scholars from the Global South, and advocate for cross-regional studies.2 The conference in Bangkok was the fourth conference organized by the GSCIS. It brought together minds dedicated to exploring the  transformative potential of the Global South within international organizations and beyond. This was in alignment with the conference theme, referenced in the official title of the conference itself: The Global South in International Organizations and Beyond: Transformation, Influence, and Empowerment in an Evolving World Politics.

A diverse array of 280 presenters, volunteers and staff participated in 21 virtual panels, 59 in-person panels, 4 specialized workshops, and a single plenary session. They were assembled under the distinguished leadership of ISA GSCIS 2023 Chair, Prof. Aigul Kulnazarova of Tama University, Japan. The program chairs were Prof. Alistair Edgar of Wilfrid Laurier University, Prof. Barbara Kratiuk from University of Warsaw, and Dr. Cyril Obi of the APN and Next Gen program of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).

The conference served as a melting pot of ideas, opinions, and insights, which were expressed in a variety of ways. Notable figures, including Ms. Armida Alisjahbana (Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) and Prof. Kitti Prasirtsuk (Director at the Institute of East Asian Studies, Thammasat University), provided invaluable perspectives on ASEAN, China, and the Global South during the opening session. The conference also extended beyond traditional academic boundaries, featuring keynotes, panels and paper presentations, mentor-led discussions on pedagogical skills, and critical examinations of international relations methodologies.

My interdisciplinary presentation explored media depictions of soap operas originating from the Global South. Based on my doctoral research, the paper aimed to delineate the potential of these soap opera narratives as instruments for stimulating progress in development and gender justice by addressing poverty, inequality, and environmental crises. Dr. Aleksandra Jaskolska, one of the discussants, provided feedback critiquing the presentation on several fronts. Firstly, she addressed its scope, noting that the title was misleading in nature, given that the analysis only scrutinized two soap operas from the Global South. Secondly, she highlighted deficiencies in the paper’s analytical framework, emphasizing its pronounced emphasis on representation at the expense of a nuanced exploration of the narratives’ transformative potential on development within the global south.

Unfortunately, the number of scholars from African universities included only Dr. Kennedy Manduna and myself. However, our contributions enriched the discussions at the conference since we brought our diverse perspectives and insights from Africa. Our interactions with counterparts from other regions in the Global South were engaging, friendly, dynamic, and fruitful. Hopefully, this experience will motivate more scholars to embrace global cooperation in addressing common challenges and advancing shared goals.

As I embarked on the return journey to Kenya, the resonance of these discussions lingered, leaving me eager to share the knowledge gained. In the following sections, I elaborate upon my observations during the conference, highlight key discussions, and their profound impact on reshaping my understanding of global issues.

Understanding the Global South: Challenges and Opportunities

The Global South grapples with a series of challenges, ranging from socio-economic disparities and political instability, to environmental concerns and health crises. Economic inequality, historical legacies of colonialism, and limited access to resources contribute to these complex challenges faced by countries within these regions. Furthermore, the Global South often contends with issues of governance, human rights, and security, adding layers to the multifaceted landscape of challenges. Nevertheless, developing nations such as China, India, Brazil, and South Africa have experienced noteworthy economic development.3

Amidst these challenges, the Global South also presents a tapestry of opportunities. Rich cultural diversity, untapped economic potential, and a youthful demographic dividend are notable resources of the region.4 Increasingly, countries in the Global South are gaining prominence on the global stage, contributing significantly to international trade, innovation, and diplomacy.5 As globalization reshapes the world order, the Global South finds itself at the forefront of transformative developments.6

Understanding the intricate balance between challenges and opportunities within the Global South provides a crucial context to the discussions and insights that emerged at the Global South conference. This awareness allows us to appreciate the significance of initiatives aimed at fostering collaboration, knowledge exchange, and empowerment among scholars and nations within the Global South.

Local Impact: Fostering Collaboration and Intellectual Exchange

The decision to host the fourth Global South Caucus conference at Thammasat University proved to be strategically impactful. It left a lasting impression on both the local community and the academics present. The university’s commitment to scholarship and upholding the virtues of public interest aligned seamlessly with the conference’s themes, fostering cultural exchange and inspiring warm hospitality from the local community. The event also enriched the university’s academic landscape by providing faculty and students with exposure to diverse perspectives and methodologies. Beyond the conference rooms, the collaboration between local academics and global scholars may catalyze new research initiatives.

Collaborations, Initiatives, and Partnerships: Forging Paths Beyond the Conference:

Academic Collaboration

One of the notable outcomes of the conference is the likelihood of academic collaboration between scholars from diverse regions of the Global South. As a conference host, Thammasat University played a pivotal role in fostering these connections, establishing a strong foundation for a collaborative spirit that is expected to outlive the conference.

Institutional Initiatives

The conference acted as a springboard for institutional initiatives aimed at addressing global challenges from a regional perspective. Attendees, representing various universities and research institutions, seized the opportunity to discuss joint research endeavors, exchange programs, and capacity-building initiatives. These institutional initiatives contribute to the advancement of knowledge and also strengthen the bonds between academic institutions committed to addressing the unique challenges faced by the Global South.

Partnerships for Cross-Regional Studies: The Global South Caucus for International Studies

(GSCIS) emphasizes cross-regional studies as one of its objectives.7

Resilience, Intersectionality, and Knowledge Exchange: Key Takeaways in Navigating the Global South Landscape:

The 4th Global South Caucus conference yielded pivotal lessons and takeaways. These key insights not only shape the discourse within the academic realm but also hold significant potential for influencing policies and initiatives on a global scale.

Global South Resilience

The conference underscored the remarkable resilience of countries within the Global South. Despite multifaceted challenges, there was a prevalent spirit of resilience, innovation, and determination. Understanding and appreciating this resilience is paramount for crafting effective solutions that acknowledge the unique contexts of these regions.

Intersectionality of Challenges

A recurring theme throughout the conference was the intersectionality of challenges faced by Global South countries. Discussions emphasized the interconnected nature of socio-economic, political, and environmental issues. Recognizing these interdependencies is crucial for formulating comprehensive strategies that address these challenges in a holistic manner.

Empowerment through Knowledge Exchange

The conference served as a dynamic platform for knowledge exchange among scholars from diverse Global South regions. The empowerment that comes from sharing insights, experiences, and research findings not only enriches academic discourse, but also empowers nations to advocate for their unique needs and perspectives on global issues.

Call for Inclusive Global Governance:

The discussions highlighted the urgent need for more inclusive global governance structures. The Global South with its increasing influence, must play a central role in shaping international organizations and policies. The takeaways emphasized the importance of creating spaces where Global South voices are not only heard, but actively contribute to decision-making processes.

Cultural Sensitivity in Research

A nuanced understanding of the Global South requires cultural sensitivity in research methodologies. The conference shed light on the importance of adopting inclusive and respectful research approaches that consider local needs and perspectives. This cultural sensitivity is instrumental in fostering collaborations that truly address the needs and aspirations of diverse communities.

Potential Impact on Global South Issues

These key takeaways collectively hold the potential to reshape the narrative surrounding Global South issues. By acknowledging and building upon the resilience of these nations, developing comprehensive strategies that recognize interconnected challenges, and advocating for inclusive global governance, the impact of the Global South on the international stage can be amplified. Furthermore, empowerment through knowledge exchange and adopting culturally sensitive research approaches will ensure that the unique voices and contributions of the Global South are not only acknowledged but celebrated in the global discourse.

The conference ended with a dinner cruise at the Chao Praya River in the Riverside Bangkok Cruise ship followed by a cultural exploration of “Old” Bangkok and the Thonburi Kingdom the following day. One of the highlights was the visit to the awe-inspiring Grand Palace at Nong Prue. It was a befitting end to an amazing conference.

Conclusion

The 4th Global South Caucus at Thammasat University was more than an academic event. As the discussions continue to resonate, the impact of this conference extends beyond borders, fostering collaborations, shaping narratives, and empowering nations within the Global South. The road ahead is illuminated by the lessons learned and the connections forged in the heart of Bangkok — a testament to the conference’s enduring legacy in the pursuit of a more equitable and informed global community.

Endnotes

  1. International Studies Association
  2. Global South Caucus for International Studies, 2023
  3. Singh Puri, 2010
  4. Abdul Rahman, D’Silva & Peteranderl, 2021
  5. National Intelligence Council, 2021
  6. Kraemer-Mbula et al., 2020
  7. GSCIS, 2023
  8. Abdul Rahman, E., D’Silva, E., & Peteranderl, S. (2021). The Demographic Dividend and the Power of Youth. New York: Anthem Press.
  9. Escobar, A. (2007). Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes. Duke University Press.
  10. Global South Caucus for International Studies. (2023). Handbook of the 4th Global South Caucus Conference (p. 6). Thammasat University Press.
  11. Kraemer-Mbula, E., Tijssen, R. J. W., Wallace, M. L., & McLean, R. (2020). Transforming Research Excellence: New Ideas from the Global South. African Minds. Cape Town.
  12. National Intelligence Council. (2021). Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World. New York: COSIMO REPORTS.
  13. Singh Puri, H. (2010). Rise of the Global South and Its Impact on South-South Cooperation. Development Outreach. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10986/6076
  14. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2019). Human Development Report 2019. Retrieved from http://hdr.undp.org/en/indicators/137506
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