Research theme: Global South

The majority of people on our planet live in the Global South, where most of the world’s natural resources are located but where challenges related to poverty, social marginality, and fragile environments are daunting.

Global sustainability challenges cannot be solved without enhancing the transformation pathways in the Global South that are intricately linked to the development trajectories in the rest of the world. Therefore, novel pathways need to be co-designed through innovative interactions and ways of co-learning between the Global South and North.

The Global South thematic under HELSUS provides a unique platform exploring the conditions, limits and pathways for sustainability in different post-colonial contexts. There is a wide disciplinary expertise and ongoing research on this thematic in the University of Helsinki. In addition to bringing Global South researchers together in Helsinki, one important goal of HELSUS is to facilitate student and staff mobility between the University of Helsinki and the universities in the Global South. HELSUS will also enable knowledge exchange between its own overarching research themes (Arctic, Global South, Urban, Consumption and Production, Theory and Methodology). One of the central parts of the Global South theme at the university is the university's Africa-programme Focus Africa.


Franklin Obeng-Odoom, HELSUS-Professor in lead of the Global South theme


Social media

The HELSUS Global South Encounters can also be found on TwitterLinkedIn, and YouTube!!  Follow GSE on these platforms and keep up with all the updates and webinars!


As a HELSUS theme, the Global South is vital and dynamic, drawing together a wide range of interests from several diverse research groups. We recognise the plurality of meanings evoked by the notion of the ‘Global South’, ranging from underdeveloped geographies through conditions of marginality, to methodologies sometimes described with adjectives such as ‘Indigenous’, and ‘Southern’ as well as their intersections.

While acknowledging that these conceptions are vigorously contested, we are committed to a holistic interpretation of the Global South, which is part of; rather than apart from, the Global North. In this sense, we are interested in the social, environmental, and economic structures and processes that generated and continue to shape the uneven power relations between the Global South and the Global North. In developing this engaged understanding and plurality of interests, our general objectives are to cultivate the relationships that will make the Global South theme, and HELSUS as a group, cohesive, and to develop the group conditions that will create the social conditions for its members to thrive. Committed to the nurturing of future leaders, we value excellence, diversity, transdisciplinarity, and collegiality, while encouraging individual initiative and effort. We aspire to lead by example while also inspiring individual members’ diverse interests and style. Details of our strategy are echoed in (a) valorising (b) establishing and (c) implementing the vision for the Global South theme in order to collectively develop pathways and solutions towards sustainability transformation.


Developing a positive future for the Global South, detailing the path for achieving it, and actually taking part in the strategy to achieve the vision are crosscutting key goals.

All three aspects require emphasis on first-class personal relationships. A shared vision and the sheer pleasure in working together are attributes that can animate the implementation of the vision.

We have a transparent and open-door policy in decision making, seeking to develop the Global South as a world class theme for impactful transdisciplinary research, education and public engagement seeking to decolonise sustainability science as a field and reconstruct alternatives.


A Shared Vision for the Theme

Through surveys, seminars, and other engaged participatory approaches, we have clarified the ultimate goal of this theme to include developing southern and indigenous understandings of sustainability, deconstructing the sustainable development processes, and seeking to engage the public about the many ways in which the Global South can become exemplars of living well. According to HELSUS, this theme is seeking to transcend how the Global South is studied today to develop ‘transformation pathways’. Doing so, entails putting justice and liberation at the heart of the vision.

Articulating the Vision within the HELSUS and University of Helsinki Frameworks

The more we can ask the right questions, seek answers using effective participatory approaches, and translate our answers to policy and action, the more we can contribute to the University of Helsinki, while developing the position of HELSUS as local and global leader.

Developing a Research Agenda Shared by HELSUS

As our goal is to build a global hub for conducting research, developing research-informed recommendations for policy, and facilitating southern praxis are important, as is deconstructing the process of globalisation. Such emphases require fundamental engagement with various processes in which social structures shape socio-ecological pressures. Some of these questions (located at the centre of the debates on the tensions and contradictions between growth, redistribution, and ecological limits) have been answered, most unsatisfactorily, and others not at all. For those questions which exceed our capacity, we seek partnerships with other themes at HELSUS and elsewhere, both in the Global South and the Global North, as well as across cross-cutting initiatives such as INEQ and EXALT.


Our plan is to concretely develop the theme to disseminate research within the broad ‘HELSUS Approach’.


Doing so include developing our networks in universities around the world (including those networks in Asia-Pacific, Australia, Africa, Europe, the Arctic and the Americas), in learned associations such as, national academies of science, in civil society organisations, and in global organisations (such as the UN), as well as local governments, and in local associations such as the Finnish Society for Development Research and UNIPID. Such restructuring is intended to help refine some of the questions asked to deconstruct some of the conversations, to provide more nuanced approaches, and to pursue the aspiration of unrestricted dissemination of the findings of our work.

Similarly, we seek to take active steps to make direct submissions to the local and global development agencies, including the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UNDP, and the IPCC in the hope that our work feeds directly into global reports Consulting for these bodies is a direct way to influence their way of thinking and, hence, position the theme as a thought leader and create valuable experience and networks for students with whom we will work on such projects.

Co-Teaching and Co-Supervision

Along with trying to influence the nature of the existing programmes to which  HELSUS contributes (such as ECGS), we  envisage the possibility of reworking or shaping courses elsewhere, including in cognate disciplines such as Development Studies and Social Policy, where we are developing fruitful collaborations for co-teaching and co-supervision. In these programmes, colonial pedagogies are decolonised. Southern theories are nurtured, as are their dialectical relationship with other empowering approaches across disciplines to make students concerned global citizens.

Public Engagement

We work with others to host public seminars, conferences, radio and TV programs along with engaging social media on disseminating our work. Writing for magazines, newspapers, and blogs will be part of the agenda, as will making submissions to local council and national parliamentary; and engaging with institutions, networks, and initiatives around the world.


Practical steps are important in this regard. Developing the open-access book series, Edinburgh Studies in Urban Political Economy, published by Edinburgh University Press is one of such steps. Publishing special issues in journals is another, as is pursuing non-hierarchical collaborations across the world. Inviting others to share their work with us is a complementary step, as is supporting others by sharing our work with them. Co-creation and co-production of special issues are additional concrete steps, but all of them are underpinned by our values, central to which is the idea that we are pursuing not just sustainability; but a just sustainability.

University of Helsinki has contributed to research and setting up facilities in several research stations in Africa. Please read more on research stations and the work that has been conducted below.

Centre Val­Bio Research Sta­tion, Mad­a­gas­car

Several researchers of the University of Helsinki have conducted research in this research station, located in the National Park of Ranomafana in Madagascar. Centre ValBio works to protect Madagascar’s unique and biologically diverse ecosystems through conservation science and projects that directly benefit the local people. The University of Helsinki has also been funding Centre ValBio.

Taita Research Sta­tion, Kenya

The University of Helsinki established Taita Research Station in the Taita Hills in 2011. Taita Hills is of primary interest among geographers, ecologists, foresters, agronomists and social scientists studying the land use and land cover changes, biodiversity, water resources, climate – land cover feedback mechanisms, rural development and environmental conservation.

Turkana Basin Research In­sti­tute, Kenya

Founded by Richard Leakey and Stony Brook University in 2005, The Turkana Basin Institute is an international, multi-disciplinary organization supporting scientific research in the Turkana Basin region of northern Kenya. Professor Mikael Fortelius from the University of Helsinki has been collaborating with the TBI for instance by organizing a Palaeontology Field School recently.

Wel­ge­gund meas­ure­ment sta­tion, South Africa

The Welgegund atmospheric measurement station is located approximately 100 km west of Johannesburg (Gauteng) metropolitan area in South Africa. The site is operated jointly by the North-West University (NWU), the University of Helsinki (UH) and the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI).

The Global South theme under HELSUS consists of diverse research topics from various disciplines within the University of Helsinki. Here is a list of ongoing research.

Indigenous Studies programme at the University of Helsinki fosters sustainable and ethical research with Indigenous peoples. Our research investigates and takes into account Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, and values, providing new perspectives on human-environment interactions, Indigenous education, wellbeing, temporalities, Indigenous rights, as well as methodological issues.

As part of the Department of Forest Sciences, the Viikki Tropical Resources Institute (VITRI) provides academic training and implements research on forests and related natural resources in tropical countries in the Global South.

International Forest Policy research group analyses opportunities and obstacles for processes of transformational change as well as the discourses and power relations within the wider institutional environment with implications to the forestry sector. The research also examines forest governance and evaluates the effectiveness, efficiency and equity outcomes of international forest policy instruments.

Earth Change Observation Laboratory applies remote sensing sensors and geospatial data for studying Earth’s physical, biological and societal systems and how they change our environment and livelihoods especially in the Global South.

  • Social Sustainability of Urban Transformations in the Global South

The research focuses on urban theory, policy, and praxis for sustainable, good and healthy cities. The group is interested in a range of questions on diverse aspects of the political economy of space such as what is a good city, how to theorise it, in what ways quality of life can be measured in the city and how the good city is related to its surrounding rural areas and the peri-urban interface within the world system. The ongoing projects of the group include longitudinal studies on urban financialisation in the Global South, the rise of oil, coal, and nuclear cities in the South – as well as the limitations and prospects on new theories of money and energy. Urban political economy is a cross-cutting methodological emphasis of the group, known as 'The Helsinki School of Critical Urban Studies', as reflected in its book series, The Edinburgh Studies in Urban Political Economy

Development studies critically examines development, poverty, inequality as well as social, political, environmental and cultural changes and continuities within our world from a multidisciplinary perspective. At the University of Helsinki, development studies focuses on topics such as the theory and history of development and developmentalism, global justice, and the relationship between so-called development and culture, gender, space and the environment as well as the global political economy.

Soilman Project focused on mapping, management and resilience of ecosystem services for food security and response to climate change in Ethiopia.

More information at:

The world looks very different from how it was a few years ago. Even more so from the perspective of the Global South, the crises are not only multiple but also cumulative. Much has been said about the corrosive effects of COVID-19 on the economies and political economies of the Global South, although we know much less about the implications for sustainability in these nations and regions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the pandemic has delayed and perhaps even reversed progress on sustainability. Particular concern has arisen regarding the broadening of inequality gaps within and between countries and questions have been revisited asking just how just is our current approach to sustainable development.

Traditionally, sustainability is seen three dimensionally: environment, economy, and society, but just sustainability1must be seen as interconnected and global. Current concepts of sustainability increasingly emphasise the need for change, usually stressing sustainability transitions, sustainability transformations, and systemic changes. However, it remains unclear what the ramifications of these multiple changes would be for countries in the Global South , perhaps signalling a need to alter our theories, theorising and methods of study.

We are at a crucial juncture in our efforts to realise a sustainable and just world within one interconnected earth. There is a unique opportunity to transform the world following the pandemic, but we must do so in inclusive ways. In spite of much talk about ‘collaboration’,

scientific relationships in sustainability science research are too uneven and unequal. Without decolonising sustainability, the Global South and its peoples, often those making the least contribution to the socio-ecological crises of today and yet those hardest hit by the effects of environmental degradation, will be left behind.

With the goal of limiting (and indeed reducing) inequalities in mind, we launch this call for papers for consideration for publication in a special issue of The Global South. We seek research papers on a wide range of topics. We encourage diversity, pluralism, and citizenship, whether in disciplines, fields, paradigms or any other identity. Our theme, however, is a compass and includes the following:

  • Re-envisioning sustainability and Sustainability Sciences in the Global South from the perspective of the Global South;
  • Risks, shocks, uncertainties, and their Ramifications for Sustainability; and
  • Sustainability transformations for the Future.

We invite interested authors to submit full papers. Accompanying cover notes should indicate how papers align with these objectives and significantly advance our understanding of sustainability and the Global South. The editors and co-ordinators of the focus issue strongly encourage scientists based in, or coming from, the Global South to submit, where needed, collaborations which reverse historical uneven relations between geographies, races, (dis)abilities, and genders are preferable. All submissions will need to meet the criteria for The Global South journal and offer a significant advance in understanding over the existing literature


Full Paper submission: December 31 2021

Review process: January -April 2022

Revisions: May – December 2022

Final submissions: January 31 2023

Production: February – July 2023

Publication Date: 2023-2024

For submissions (in Word) and all possible questions and other matters, authors need to contact the special issue guest editors Franklin Obeng-Odoom ( and Kaisa Korhonen-Kurki (, The Finnish Environment Institute, Finland.

The Global South follows the style guidelines of the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, also available in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. Please, do not exceed the word limit of 10 000 words including references and tables. Also shorter contributions are welcome.


1 Agyeman J, 2013, Introducing Just Sustainabilities: Policy, Planning, and Practice, Zed Books, London.