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North and South: Forms of Inequality within the International Politics of Scientific Production


06.- 08. October 2021

Since the 1960s, the North-South divide has been used to express spatial representations of inequality, resulting from the expansion of European colonialism and Western capitalism. While the North relates to geographies of wealth and development, the South became a symbol of the lack thereof and illustrated life in peripheral spaces. However, how does the compartmentalization of the world around geographies of inequality affect science production?

This is the larger framework of the symposium North and South: Forms of Inequality within the International Politics of Scientific Production, which happens at Schloss Herrenhausen, Hannover (Germany) from October 6 to 8, 2021, both online and onsite. This international conference is funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung, organized by Sephis Program and the GSSC - Uni Köln, and convened by Prof. Claudio Costa Pinheiro (Federal University of Riode Janeiro), Prof.  Barbara Potthast (University of Cologne), and Dr. Sinah Kloß (University of Bonn).

The North-South divide also relates to asymmetries in science, which sustain structures of academic dependency, with resilient impact to the international political economy of knowledge production and circulation, reinforcing global inequalities. But how the North-South divide influence funding policies that impact creativity and the diversity of ideas, theories, and methods in the sciences, and vice-versa? Can the South speak about aspects of social life apparently unrelated to the disparities do development – such as the constitution of the self, or about conflicts typical of modernity, like those based on social and ethnic and religious identities? Moreover, can the South represent an option to the encompassing hegemonic intellectual and scientific agendas of the North? The South has been instrumentalized to highlight the importance of diversity in sciences; however, is diversity so relevant for mathematics, engineering or physics as it is to Humanities?

These are some of the questions and perspectives to be discussed at the symposium with the aim of contributing to the analysis of practices that sustain hegemonies of power, obliterate diversity, and constrain science from being really transformative and committed with the promotion of social justice North and South: Forms of Inequality within the International Politics of Scientific Production and sustainable development. The symposium brings a transdisciplinary approach that helps a misinforming division between Humanities, Pure and Applied sciences, congregating scholars from Astrophysics, History, Linguistics, Social Anthropology, Physics, Sociology, Philosophy, Mathematics, Cultural and Literary Studies, Geography, Education, and Gender Studies, which helps avoid the basic division between humanities, pure and natural sciences.

Participants will engage in six panels, covering a range of topics: Ontological Diversity and Politics of Conviviality; Religious Studies and Human Sciences; Gender, Ethnicity Politics, and Intersectionality; Language, Translation and Circulation of Science; Politics of Geographical Imagination in Research and Funding; Inequality and funding priorities in science. Over 30 young and seniorscholars will be gathered to discuss the lack of diversity in knowledge production, including the importance of theoretical diversity, intellectual creativity, gender balance, the role of language, the variety of ontological beings and forms of conviviality, and their impacts and limits on the capacity of science to promote of social justice.

Three keynote conferences will stimulate the discussions. Prof. Jocelyn Ben Burnell, an astrophysicist from Oxford University, one of the most prominent scientists of twentieth century, will speak about gender diversity onastronomy, a topic she has been consistently addressing as a majorchallenge to the progress of science at large. Dr. Burnell will analyze thehistorical records for membership of the International Astronomical Union,segregated by country and by gender, discussing how the fraction of the women membership has evolved comparing astrophysics with other physicalsciences in academia. The importance of diversity will be discussed, taking the issue beyond that of gender alone. Opening the second day, Professor Farid Alatas, the eminent sociologist from the National University of Singapore, who will raise the question of how ‘International’ can be made ‘Universally’, addressing the impact of scientific asymmetries across the North-South divide. His longstanding commitment to analyzing academic dependency in knowledge production in historical and contemporary times also refers to how power sustains inequalities in science.

The final day starts with the physicist Prof. Mohammed Hassan from The World Academy of Sciences, a major voice on inequality in science. Professor Hassan will discuss how the scientific and funding landscape in ScienceTechnology and Innovation (STI) is affected by global inequalities. His talk will explain that although with dramatic transformations in science production and North and South: Forms of Inequality within the International Politics of Scientific Production funding of recent decades has considerably narrowed the North–South gap in STI in some regions, it has stubbornly remained in many geographical and institutional contexts. According to the professor, this is most notable amonglow-income countries (LICs), where the lack of investment in STI has been aprimary factor in the inability of LICs (Low Income Countries) to build capacities in STI and deploy them to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Our transnational and transdisciplinary symposium concentrates on the critical potential of the South for accessing and challenging hegemonic agendas and funding priorities in science, whether sponsored by the state or through philanthropy. Speakers will explore the relevance of the South as are sourceful tool to address funding and publishing priorities in research andto shed light on international asymmetries in academia. Ultimately, South will be addressed as a concept identified to geographies of inequality or critical positionalities, and moreover as an attitude: a Southern Attitude, which embraces an invitation for amplifying forms of ethical engagement that address social and scientific justice at large.

Confirmed Speakers include

  • Jocelyn Ben Burnell, Astrophysicist, Oxford University
  • Farid Alatas, Sociologist, National University of Singapore
  • Mohammed Hassan, Physicist, The World Academy of Sciences
  • Rhoda Reddock, Educator and Social Activist, University of West Indies
  • Sergio Costa, Sociologist, Freie Universität
  • Afe Adogame, Historian, Princeton University
  • Olufemi Táíwò, Philosopher, Cornell University


  • Claudio Pinheiro (Rio de Janeiro Federal University)
  • Barbara Potthast (University of Cologne)
  • Sinah Kloß (University of Bonn)


  • Sephis Programme & Global South Studies Centre

Further Information:

Preliminary Booklet