Is the global North-South distinction still relevant today, in view of China’s and India’s rise to prominance?

I’m increasingly using the term South and North, particularly as I delve deeper into the relevance of Postcolonial Theory to cross-cultural management scholarship in terms of its time-limited nature. Particularly talking about the changes in global dynamics due to the developing pre-eminence of the global South, and increasing importance of South-South relations, and indeed South-North relations, I’ve been challenged a few times on my use of the ‘South’ especially in connection with China. How relevant is this term?

In political science and international relations the concept of a global North-South divide, which arose after WWII, was consolidated in what has been referred to as the Brandt Line, conceptualized by the former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1980 as an imaginary line delineating the boundary between the industrial North and the poorer South, a political geography that had mostly eclipsed the divide between East and West, (Lees, 2011).  With countries such as China and India, which were placed at the South of this divide, Lees (2011) argues that despite considerable growth in the economies of both these countries, the concept of a North-South divide still is relevant today when considering both economic inequalities within nation-states and political and military inequalities in international relations. Connell’s (2007: 212) concept of an emerging Southern Theory in social science is also premised on the persisting relevance of this conceptual global divide which she says constitutes an expression of ‘..the long-lasting pattern of inequality in power, wealth and cultural influence that grew historically out of European and North American imperialism’. That China and India are emerging as major geopolitical and geo-economic players is not a reason to deny historical circumstance and reclassify them as ‘Northern’ states. It is a reason to unpackage the implications of South-South interactions as they emerge as a more powerful force in geopolitics, if we are to successfully scrutinize for example the role of Chinese organizations in Africa. The dominance of the United States and Europe may increasingly be less relevant. Correspondingly, management theories and policies developed in the geographical North may have less significance, particularly in terms of our understanding of cross-cultural interaction between, for example, Chinese management and African staffs.


Connell, R. (2007) Southern Theory, Cambridge: Polity.

Lees, N (2011), The Dimensions of the Divide: Theorising Inequality and the Brandt Line in International Relations. Paper presented as part of the Panel ‘South-South Cooperation: History, Concepts, Trends’ at the IPSA-ECPR Joint Conference ‘Whatever Happened to North-South?’, Sao Paulo 201, online at, assessed 19 July 2012.

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