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Words by Stha Yeni

What are the structural barriers that hinder the growth of vibrant, well-networked Global South young researchers working in critical agrarian studies along scholar-activist tradition? Can a global network of Global South young researchers working in critical agrarian studies and along scholar-activist tradition contribute to overcoming such barriers? If so, how?

These were the questions that guided our group work on the last day of a week long writeshop initiated by the Journal of Peasant Studies, the College of Humanities and Development Studies of China Agricultural University, the Institute for Poverty Land and Agrarian Studies, Future Agricultures and Young African Researchers in Agriculture. It brought together in dialogue young researchers from Ghana, South Africa, Colombia, Brazil, Mozambique, Laos, China, Ethiopia, Kenya, Turkey, Madagascar, Egypt, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Uganda, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh.

On the last day, as we reflected on the questions above, we began by acknowledging that the Global South is not homogenous. Scholars are differentiated by gender, race and theoretical traditions. Some come from universities that are as well-resourced as those in the North, and others not. Many of the universities represented at our discussion do not even have subscriptions to major international academic journals. In our group we also talked about lack of funding for scholars from the Global South. This includes funds to conduct field research, attend international conferences that come with prohibitively high costs and often happen in the North, networking and exchange visits between young researchers. Other costs that global South scholars have to carry when engaging in English (a language that is sometimes our third, fourth or fifth) involve copy editing. In other words, the dominance and exclusivity of English in highly read and cited journals can be a barrier. Is it ‘is’ or ‘are’, ‘they’ or ‘them’, past or present continuous tense, ‘in’, ‘on’ or ‘at’? We get confused all the time, and journal editors and peer reviewers may not have the degree of patience for bad grammar, and worse, they might equate it to lack of rigor. This is obviously not the case as debates about agrarian politics are alive and rigorous in our countries, making our work relevant and timely.

Knowledge production, then, is political and contested, and young researchers from the global South often enter the terrain from a disadvantaged position, lacking the cultural and social capital that is a currency in the publishing world. Top scholars in our field are mainly white, very often male , and (with a few exceptions) from the global North. This makes the need to amplify global South scholarship and Southern epistemologies even more urgent. To achieve that, we ought to be doing many things, including the need to be more deliberate about reading, crediting, teaching and publishing scholars from the Global South, women in particular or else we perpetuate the existing inequalities in knowledge production.

The Writeshop participants concluded that the international academic publishing situation in critical agrarian studies reminds us that it is not a level playing field, especially for young researchers from the global South. Can we change this? We concluded that while this not an easy task, we can.

Stha Yeni is a PhD candidate at PLAAS.

Stha Yeni (left) and Prof Ruth Hall at the recent JPS writeshop held at the China Agricultural University.

PLAAS scholars at the recent JPS writeshop held at the China Agricultural University.

Scholars debate during the recent JPS writeshop held at the China Agricultural University.