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South-South Knowledge Production and Hegemony: Searching for Africa in Chinese Theories of IR

Authors: Ilaria Carrozza and Lina Benabdallah

Affiliation: the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Department of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University

Organization/Publisher: International Studies Review-Oxford University Press

Date/Place: February 9, 2022/ UK

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Number of Pages: 21



Keywords: Global South, International Relations Theory, Knowledge Production, Knowledge Hegemony, China, Africa



Many studies on the production of International Relations (IR) have framed the analysis as a binary between the Global North and Global South, or the West and the East. This article aims to go beyond this dichotomy and examine the potential asymmetries and hierarchies within IR. The authors argue that it is important not to overlook hierarchies of knowledge production within the Global South or assume that the limitations of mainstream IR will automatically be overcome when studying non-Western IR. 

The authors argue that postcolonial and critical IR scholars should consider issues of epistemic hegemony and hierarchical knowledge production within peripheral IR perspectives in order to avoid replicating the problems inherent in mainstream IR and the mistakes caused by Western and European hegemony in the field. They call on scholars to take these issues seriously in order to avoid repeating past errors.

In their study, Carrozza and Benabdallah posed the following questions: Do Global South perspectives effectively decentralize IR theories (such as Eurocentrism and Western Centrism)? Can they also be sites of other forms of hegemony and marginalization? What strategies are employed when examining the representation of Global South actors in Global South-based IR theories?

The article is divided into four parts. The first part investigates the hierarchies present within Global South IR scholarship. In the second part, the authors argue that the Global North versus Global South narrative is not the only pattern that establishes hierarchical relations and produces epistemic hegemony. Instead, other types of relations, such as “Selving” (relations based on inclusion rather than exclusion of the “other” and similarity rather than difference) can also produce epistemic hegemonies. The third part examines the presence and absence of Africa in what the authors call China-based intellectual communities. The final part discusses the gaps and underrepresentation of Africa in Chinese theories (which are part of the South). This poses a significant problem as Chinese theories have not meaningfully incorporated other Global South perspectives on an equal footing with Chinese views, negating the idea that Global South perspectives in IR are successful in decentralizing IR theories (such as Eurocentrism and Western Centrism).


The authors identified three main limitations in Global South IR studies: 1) The assumption of the universality of concepts such as sovereignty, governance, and state, which often positions European states as a reference and sets the development of the European state as the ideal standard for organizing and evaluating political units in Africa and elsewhere. 2) The hierarchical nature of the discipline, where Global South and developing countries often serve as a source of data collection, empirical observation, and research brokerage. This hierarchical relationship can place IR scholars studying Africa, South America, and Asia as consumers of theories and concepts developed by scholars in the Global North. This Eurocentric perspective may not always be effective in understanding developments in the Global South. 3) The methodologies of knowledge production and the ethics of conducting data collection and establishing partnerships with scholars in developing countries in IR. These limitations have motivated calls for post-Western/non-Western perspectives, which have led to the exploration of new concepts as an alternative to Western concepts.


According to the authors, it is important to consider how Global South actors (such as Africa) are represented, written about, and taught within Global South IR theories and scholarship. This requires redirecting our attention away from the West versus “the rest” and instead focusing on how “the Global South can speak with and listen to each other” (south-south).


The main focus of the study is the representation of Africa in Chinese studies. To analyze this, the authors conducted a systematic content analysis of 234 articles from widely read China-based journals published in Chinese and English from 2010 to 2020, eventually narrowing the list down to sixty-nine articles and fully reading fourteen articles that met the criteria of substantially addressing Africa or African studies from an IR perspective rather than just mentioning Africa in passing. They also analyzed Chinese-language journals. The results showed that Africa is only narrowly mentioned as the context for Chinese interventions such as aid, anti-piracy operations, peacekeeping, or development assistance to Africa. The authors did not find any articles that meaningfully engaged with Africa and African perspectives in Chinese IR theorizing.


Based on the analysis, the authors conclude that while China’s contribution to the IR field has opened up space for Chinese views and concepts that are part of Southern knowledge production, this effort is still limited and needs to be diversified by including other Southern perspectives. The authors believe that while China’s attempts are innovative and important, they could potentially lead to new forms of epistemic hegemony and knowledge-production hierarchies within the Southern world itself. Many scholars are working to dismantle Western hegemony, but the challenge is to avoid replacing one form of hegemony with another.


The authors used Africa as an example in Chinese studies or Chinese theory to demonstrate theorization within the Southern world. They suggest that future studies should expand the scope to include other regions such as Southeast Asia or Latin America in China-based IR theories. As China’s role in the field of international relations has grown and it increasingly confronts Eurocentrism and Western dominance, this study analyzed an important question: whether Chinese theories will truly represent a liberation from Western centralism and allow Africa, as part of the Southern world, to be equally included in Chinese IR theories.

Based on the analysis of English- and Chinese-language IR articles published between 2010 and 2020, we can see that China’s use of solidarity speech based on the South’s shared history was intended to promote a South-South project and contribute to knowledge production. However, China has also emerged more as a successful model to be followed or incorporated by other Southern actors, such as Africa. These narratives that grant China patriarchal authority as a successful model for other Southern actors could lead to their exclusion and marginalization in the field of international relations, similar to the situation under Western centralism. Therefore, Chinese theories cannot be applied universally to other states or regions, and all actors must contribute to building new knowledge foundations in the field of international relations.

By: Chourouk Mestour, MA in Security and Strategic Studies



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