The (Indian Ocean) Southern Collective

Postnormal Knowledge Production
A network of researchers and practitioners building and sustaining collaborative partnerships aimed at democratising knowledge production in South Asia, and creating frameworks for a more distributed and democratic research culture that includes other forms of knowledge and knowledge production


In the northern Indian Ocean region, rising sea levels and increasingly frequent storms caused by climate breakdown, in addition to socioeconomic pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as displacement and migration, are fundamentally challenging everyday life. These challenges require thinking about society and climate in ways that stay with the trouble of environmental crisis and forge means for working and learning in solidarity.  

Climate breakdown is not just a product of the material relations of capitalism—fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, and the violence of extraction—but also, or even more so, the modes of thought that perpetuate such relations to climate. As the Portuguese sociologist and legal scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos writes:  

“Modern social sciences rely on methodologies that extract information from research objects in very much the same way as mining industries extract minerals and oil from nature. The epistemologies of the South, on the contrary, by relying on knowing-with rather than knowing-about […] offer some guidelines as to the methodologies that can carry out such tasks successfully.”1Boaventura de Sousa Santos, The End of the Cognitive Empire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), pp. 14-15.

Confronting the challenges of climate breakdown requires precisely these shared forms of knowledge production. Practicing alternatives to ways of learning and thinking which continue to dominate academic practice and research funding, particularly in the Global North, shared methodologies are better able to face climate breakdown as a collective, interdisciplinary, and planetary challenge. 


The Southern Collective exemplifies this practice of alternative, shared methodologies. It comprises a group of researchers working in the northern Indian Ocean region, focusing on the ways in which climate breakdown and its social impacts demand a transformation of conventional and dominant forms of knowledge production. Climate breakdown, Covid-19, and migration require working within conditions of uncertainty and urgency. The Collective calls this way of working “postnormal” knowledge production.2Aarthi Sridhar, Annu Jalais, Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa, and Sridhar Anantha, ‘The Indian Ocean Southern Collective: Collaboratory for Postnormal Coastal Knowledge Production’, Items, 12 April 2022 < [accessed 8 July 2022].

Although some of the Collective’s members work in northern-European universities, their focus is on creating south-south collaborations whose regional specificities (such as coastal locations facing erosion and rising sea levels) challenge conventional structures of funding, idea generation, and exchange, and generate new research agendas centred upon climate and climate justice.3‘About’ The Southern Collective <> [accessed 18 August 2022]. For example, the Southern Collective’s project, “Connected Ethnographies”, explores forms of “immobile” research (research that does not necessitate travel) initially brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.4Annu Jalais and Aarthi Sridhar, ‘A Collaboratory of Indian Ocean Ethnographies’, Fieldsights, 23 September 2021 <> [accessed 18 August 2022]. Whilst envisaging ways in which research can connect people via technological networks, this project also acknowledges the asymmetry of such connections by exploring digital accessibility.  

By developing collaborative projects outside and within universities, and by expanding dominant research models to encompass more ecological and intersectional concerns, the Southern Collective enables a greater diversity of knowledges to impact fields of research focused on climate and climate justice.


External links

Decolonising the curriculuma challenge embraced by universities across the world that are steeped in Global North knowledge systems in the wake of mass protests by students, staff, and others. 

Vettiver Collective in Chennai, India—a coalition of activists and “people of diverse ideologies” creating space “to discuss, debate and take action on social and environmental issues”