The idea of South: Australia’s global positioning

Issue 44 of Australian Humanities Review contains a number of important contributions to debate about Australia’s uncertain position in the South.

Margaret Jolly reflects on Raewyn Connell’s Southern Theory. She contests the use of South as a theoretical position:

In my view, use of the language of the cardinal points of cartography to describe inequalities between nations or peoples tends to naturalise and dehistoricise difference, to associate the points of the compass with the body habitus of up and down, left and right. Clearly this is at odds with Connell’s avowed aim to stress relationality between peoples and the changing contexts of power and knowledge across time and place.

Jolly proceeds to identify regional identifications that seem to be independent of hierarchy, such as the space of the Oceanic.

Her criticism opens up an important issue about the idea of South. Cartography has a tentative relation to experience. There is nothing in our immediate world that is necessarily ‘north’ or ‘south’. But that hasn’t prevented these directions taking on direct meaning. Through this axis the world is aligned along other vertical dimensions such as head and body.

Accepting that this has happened as part of colonisation does not necessarily lead to resignation. To contest verticalism it is important to understand the symbolic operation of world-making, and its contingent nature.

The existence of autonomous creative zones like Oceania is in danger of being subsumed even more easily into the North-South axis. It can conform readily to exotic view of the South as a place of collective spirit where society evolves in organic fashion.

If you don’t take a global view, someone will take it on your behalf.

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