Global Southerners in the North

By Ama Ruth Francis

Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) scholarship contends that international law privileges nation-states in the Global North over those in the Global South. The literature primarily draws on a Westphalian conception of the North-South divide in analyzing asymmetrical issues of power in the global political economy. Given the expansion of global capitalism, however, the nation-state-based mode of analysis misses the fact that there are Global Souths in the geographic North and Global Norths in the geographic South. This Essay makes two theoretical claims.

First, it argues that racial capitalism renders expendable populations across the geographic North and South, destabilizing the Westphalian North-South structure. Global Southerners, defined by their positionality as capitalism’s externalities, exist across the North-South schema. The Essay uses climate displacement as an example. The adverse effects of carbon pollution combine with postcolonial legacy and contemporary imperialism to transmogrify the lives, livelihoods, and homelands of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) around the world into the hidden cost of industrialization. Climate change, an issue that challenges strict notions of national borders, serves as germane material in the Essay’s work to deterritorialize the notion of the North-South divide.

Second, this Essay names the existence of Global Southerners in the geographic North as a heretofore unnamed site of resistance for reordering the North-South divide in international law. It leverages the author’s deterritorialized view of the Global South to claim that Global Southerners are political agents with the capacity to shift the global political economy of international law. Although others have begun to reimagine the Global South beyond geographical lines in order to articulate a theory of resistance in international law, this Essay seeks to break new ground by highlighting the particular power of Global Southerners residing in the geographic North. As such, this Essay reinvigorates the central TWAIL question of how to shift power along the North-South divide.