Theory is Going South
By ‘Theory from the South,’ the Comaroffs wish to indicate several things. The first follows from the broad recognition that modern European empires used colonial spaces as experimental sites for rule, military techniques and scientific subjects. So the Comaroffs wish to make space for Southern theorists—those located in, those transferring between—so as to listen to these theorists speak with an alternative experience of modernity, to speak directly about the ramification of these experiments using the theoretical vernaculars they have developed to seek historical justice for imperial rule and international capital, albeit in a language that most in the North refuse to listen to or make the effort to understand.
To be clear, this is not to reify the Global South nor persons located there as somehow less mystified or closer to nature so having special insights that those in the North do not or cannot possess. Nor it is to presume that the South is adjacent to historical processes. But rather to insist that it is intimately wrapped up in world history. The Comaroffs say “while Euro-American and its antipodes are caught up in the same world-historic processes, the Global South has tended to feel their effects before the global north.” This is because of underdevelopment and associated burdens that these societies show the effects of historical change before the global north. This does not make them exotic places of utopia or terror. Instead as the Comaroff’s say, “old margins are becoming new frontiers, places where mobile, globally-competitive capital finds minimally regulated zones in which is vest its operations.” They continue,
Capitalism flourishes as democracy is displaced by autocracy or technocracy; where industrial manufacture opens up ever more cost-efficient sites for itself; where highly flexible, extraordinarily inventive informal economies—of the kind now expanding everywhere—have long thrived; and where those performing outsourced services for the north develop cutting edge enterprises of their own, both legitimate and illicit; where new idioms of work, time, and governance take root, thus to alter planetary practices.
Further on they remark that Theory From the South acknowledges
that the South is not analyzed as the mere receiving end of colonial subjection or modernization’s designs but rather emerges as a space of experimentation that prefigures the near future of the West. Whereas the colonies might have always been the first laboratory of modernity, there is allegedly something new in the political, economic, and cultural ways in which the South anticipates the contours of the Euro-American future.
In an aphorism they write that “the Global North appears to be ‘going south.’”