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Category: Classification

The ‘Global South’ is a terrible term. Don’t use it!

The Rise of the ‘Global South’ The ‘Global South‘ and ‘Global North‘ are increasingly popular terms used to categorize the countries of the world. According to Wikipedia, the term ‘Global South’ originated in postcolonial studies, and was first used in 1969. The Google N-gram chart below shows the rise of the ‘Global South’ term from 1980 till 2008, but the rise is even more impressive afterwards. Nowadays, the Global South is used as a shortcut to anything from poor and less-developed to oppressed and powerless. Despite this vagueness, the term is prominent in serious academic publications, and it even features in the names of otherwise reputable institutions. But, its popularity notwithstanding, the ‘Global South’ is a terrible term. Here is why.   There is no Global South The Global South/Global North terms are inaccurate and misleading. First, they are descriptively inaccurate, even when they refer to general notions such as (economic) development. Second, they are homogenizing, obscuring important differences between countries supposedly part of the Global South and North groups. In this respect, these terms are no better than alternatives that they are trying to replace, such as ‘the West‘ or the ‘Third World‘. Third, the Global South/Global North terms imply a geographic determinism that is wrong and demotivational. Poor countries are not doomed to be poor, because they happen to be in the South, and their geographic position is not a verdict on their developmental prospects.   The Global South/Global North terms are inaccurate and misleading Let me show you just how…

In defense of description

John Gerring has a new article in the British Journal of Political Science [ungated here]which attempts to restore description to its rightful place as a respectful occupation for political scientists. Description has indeed been relegated to the sidelines at the expense of causal inference during the last 50 years, and Gerring does a great job in explaining why this is wrong. But he also points out why description is inherently more difficult than causal analysis:  ‘Descriptive inference, by contrast, is centred on a judgment about what is important, substantively speaking, and how to describe it. To describe something is to assert its ultimate value. Not surprisingly, judgments about matters of substantive rationality are usually more contested than judgments about matters of instrumental rationality, and this offers an important clue to the predicament of descriptive inference.’ (p.740) Required reading.

Organizing your library

I finally managed to organize all my printed articles into folders. Quite a tedious task, but maybe worth sharing my experience in more detail. First the background and the objective: I had probably around 400 printed journal articles, kind of sorted into piles and lying around my office threatening slowly to engulf me. The articles had accumulated over the last few years and featured both rather extensive collections on well-defined topics (like policy responsiveness) and scattered individual pieces that I liked for some reason on topics I mostly  don’t keep track on (like regime collapse).  Obviously, I would want the articles organized  into folders so that 1) they look neat, 2) I have quick access when I need them, and 3) I am able to do quick surveys of particular topics. The solution I opted  for is organizing the articles into approximately 30 topics and, within each topic, alphabetically.  The more common way of using only alphabetical  ordering doesn’t work well for libraries without a catalog because you need to remember the author of an article in order to find it.  And making and keeping a catalog would be too tedious. Unfortunately, one cannot rely on tags to organize  physical objects like printed  texts. Discovering tags (as used in blogs for example) has been a real revelation for me and  my efforts to put order to the world around me. Tags out-compete hierarchical classification any time. But for my folders,  I had to settle for non-overlapping classification into a small number…