Doing Sociology Outside of the Global North

By Denisse Sepúlveda Sánchez

I am a migrant from South America, who has lived in UK more than five years, and is from a working-class family with indigenous heritage; I want to share some impressions that I have about doing sociology about the global south in the global north. Despite Sociology being a discipline that is aware of social inequalities and power dynamics, the discipline has many challenges related to this question.

For all people who are in academia is important to attend conferences in order to show their work and learn and update your knowledge from other academics. When travelling a long way, often at great personal and economic expense, to attend conferences, it means a lot. Due to conference costs – often associated with conferences’ location – opportunities to share our work and establish networks can be very limited. Therefore, we are immediately at a disadvantage with the rest of researchers. When we have the opportunity of presenting our work, we are often placed in panels that are not related to our work, but that are connected by the fact that we are from ‘foreign’ countries. Let’s consider that when people send abstracts about an ‘unfamiliar context’, thinker, or approach, that they should be integrated in to panels creatively, and not necessarily with respect to the place that we are from or we are studying. 

Also, there is another kind of exclusion if you are not living in the global north, because it is very difficult to know about all the call for papers there are. So, if you don’t have access to information, you must have a good academic network, but if you are from the global south this kind of support is difficult to find. In a similar vein, as there are not enough papers about the global south in English, there is a lack of important bibliography and academic curricula about this part of the world.  

People from non-EU countries find further difficulties when applying for jobs in European countries. Some institutions do not sponsor Tier 2 visas; therefore, as non-EU citizens we have fewer opportunities to find a job in academia. Additionally, NHS fees are 400 pounds every year per person. Also the cost of a visa application is 704 pounds per person if you apply inside UK, the cost change to 610 pounds if you apply from another country. Therefore, imagine the cost of a visa application for a family of four members (with three dependants), which – including NHS fees – will cost 7616 pounds for a three year academic position. In practical terms we have to invest so much to have the kind of ‘privilege’ bestowed on other academics as part of their work. Universities and institutions actually have to prove that we are exceptional candidates for the job, because they have to justify why they did not hire a local (which saves time and other costs associated with applying for a visa). 

These challenges impact heavily upon the discipline of sociology. There is reproduction of the very same inequalities and hierarchies that we are studying: the economic and legal frameworks are in fact the consequences of divisions we also have inside academia. If people want to belong to academia in the global north, they should not have to face all economic, cultural, legal and emotional boundaries to be an academic over here. 

Culturally, sociology is dominated by the English language. As HE institutions adopt practices where academics and institutions are ranked according to their academic results, which intensifies exclusions for some and privileges for others. We have to invest time and money in order to being competent in the language; we often have to send our articles to proofreading (which is not cheap) or publish our articles in other journals that are not that popular or prestigious. There should be a mechanism to include research in other languages, maybe include in the editorial committee people who speak in other language who can read and review these papers and, in that way, extended the scope of the research conversation.

For many decades, academics who focused their studies on indigenous people did not belong to indigenous communities. Hence, we did not have the perspective of indigenous people in academia, because academia is a privileged space, based on other sets of social hierarchies, where few have a voice. However, this situation is starting to change. Nowadays there is a group of indigenous historians, which goal is to understand the relationship between Chilean society and the indigenous population from a decolonial perspective; indigenous history has been told through the colonizer’s eyes for centuries. This movement is very new but shows that academia is witnessing a kind of transformation, where otherness, diversity, and heterogeneity are key categories. Still, I think is a good exercise to ask how many Latin American and/or indigenous people are in academia in Chile, USA, UK, or mainland Europe? How much funding is available (or it is given) for studies from the global south? We need to start to think in strategies to include researchers with different background, trajectories and languages. 

I can see the basis of a change in academia concerning sociologies of the global south. Luckily people are more open to knowing and understanding what happens in the other part of the globe. If we really want to decolonise academy, we should start to change the institutional structures and give space and voice to people from the global south, who have very interesting research to share.

Denisse Sepúlveda Sánchez holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Manchester. She also holds an MSc degree in Gender and Culture awarded by University of Chile. She is a research associate of University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland, Haute école de travail social ▪ HES-SO Genève. Her research interests include social mobility, identities, intersectionality, decoloniality, ethnicity and indigenous people. Denisse tweets @denissesep

This blog is part of the Global Sociology special collection. Read other contributions here.

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