Will the Emerging Global South Institutions Challenge Western Hegemony? A Case Study of BRICS

Global South countries are more inclined to bind with one another and form regional institutions of their own. This can be reflected through the establishment of BRICS.

Is a Great Shift Catching Up?

The heyday of Western hegemony, which includes the US along with other global north nations, was marked by its dominance and influence over the majority of the sectors of the globe. Western hegemony is evident and prominent in global economics and trade, media, high politics, and the social and cultural climate of the world. The end of World War II solidified the dominance of Western hegemony (Wright, 2012), through the rise of institutions and NGOs.

Western nations being the primary donors of these institutions and NGOs, subsequently hold power and influence over these institutions. International institutions serve the very interest and purpose it was built for, to fulfill the interests of Western nations. Institutions and NGOs have slowly become trojan horses for the integration of global neoliberalism (Wright, 2012). Thus, western agendas are promoted and infiltrated through these institutions and NGOs. However, since the 21st century, there has been an increase in global south cooperations.

Global South countries are more inclined to bind with one another and form regional institutions of their own. This can be reflected through the establishment of BRICS, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa. Since then, BRICS has expanded to include more and more countries.  Will these emerging global south institutions challenge the dominance of Western hegemony and mark the decline of Western hegemony?

Gramsci’s Concept of Hegemony and State Dynamics

Antonio Gramsci is an Italian Marxist philosopher and former General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party. Gramsci is credited with coining the concept of hegemony. According to Gramsci, hegemony is a political leadership based on the consent of the leader, the permission of which is achieved through polarization and diffusion viewed through the lens of the ruling class (Bates, 1975). The dynamics of state-to-state interaction, be it international or supranational, could not only be analyzed using class theory alone, hence the development of Gramsci’s hegemony theory. States are no longer instruments between classes but act to regulate and establish dominance over other states (Febriani & Hamdi, 2024).

Gramsci’s concept of hegemony describes how the ruling class utilizes dominant ideologies to mask its control over the masses (Febriani & Hamdi, 2024). Capitalism, according to Gramsci, not only dominates politically or economically but infiltrates the social and cultural sphere, thus maintaining the bourgeoisie values and status quo, instead of rebelling or questioning them. According to Gramsci, the ruling class or the states play a double role, that is to use both coercion (power) and consent (agreement). The state maintains control through these two roles, the actors set socio-political rules and establish moral and cultural norms/values, establishing a hegemony. This solidifies the existence of state power, however, power relies on gaining legitimacy through persuasion. For a revolution to successfully last, the ruling class’ very values need to be dismantled in society (Febriani & Hamdi, 2024).

In this sense, the West, or the Global North, holds the status quo as the ruling class, and the Global South as the one being controlled. For years the Global South has been under the control and domination of the Global North. The hegemony the West has upon the Global South transpires over the institutions they built. These institutions were constructed to serve all the global spheres, thus the infiltration of the Global North values was planted within these institutions.

BRICS and the Rise of Global South Institutions: Analytical Opinion

The establishment of BRICS marks the rise of new key players in the globe. These emerging players, although not directly posing a threat to the West, grow increasingly influential. As a result, these emerging powers are not inconsequential to the current global order. BRICS can continuously expand, to promote its interest, and to reach more and more states and emerging powers. These increases in power and influence can potentially pose a threat as BRICS challenges the West or the European view of defiance of the international order.

According to Keukeleire & Hooijmaaijers (2013), despite the differences, there are many mutual and common traits shared between the BRICS members. First, they possess a range of economic, military, and political power resources to contribute to the production of international order, regionally or globally. Second, they believe that they are entitled to more influence in global affairs. Third, they are not tied to any of the US’ international and multilateral reach or cooperations. All these factors play into the willingness and ability of the BRICS countries to strengthen their relations and promote alternatives to the international forums that are Western-dominated.

BRICS countries also actively call for reforms in the Western-dominated international forums. With the existing international institutions, it is clear that global south countries are often under-represented and most of the forums revolve around the West and what the West decides over the rest. BRICS is not afraid to challenge this already deeply-rooted narrative. Although the Western hegemony shaped the structure of international institutions, the rise of emerging powers challenges the very “Western principle” of structure itself.

Despite not posing as a direct threat individually, these combined emerging powers are something even the West could not underestimate. According to Gramsci (Bates, 1975), to challenge a hegemony and ultimately achieve social transformation, the subaltern class or the Global South emerging powers must ally with each other, that way a new historical bloc (one that breaks the structure that was created by the status quo) and collective will is born. This is called “counter-hegemony” when another emerging power establishes new values and order through a new ideology.  Recently, signs of counter-hegemony can be observed through the rise of China exercising soft power in different regions, such as the African continent. If China continues to expand, China along with other emerging powers will take up bigger roles in global affairs, challenging the status quo and bringing in their values and ideologies as a collective, posing as counter-hegemony.

Chiara Abigail Gultom
Chiara Abigail Gultom
I am currently studying International Relations at Gadjah Mada University. I pour the things I learn into my writings, in hopes it will become useful to others. I’m passionate in this realm of studies, and I can’t wait to contribute more through my writings.