From the Archive: Kenneth McPherson, ‘Cultural Exchange in the Indian Ocean Region’ (December 1984)
A longer perspective on the history of the Indian Ocean region is provided in Westerly’s December 1984 issue ‘Focus on Indian Ocean Studies’. The opening essay by Kenneth McPherson titled ‘Cultural Exchange in the Indian Ocean Region’ charts ‘the various processes of cultural interchange which have taken place within the Indian Ocean region over the millennia since the beginning of human activity’ (5). No mean feat!
McPherson usefully describes the vast area as a chain, with each link representing ‘a core area of civilisation which, as a result of various processes of cultural interchange, is linked to a neighbouring core area of civilisation’ (6). This thesis is certainly more accurate, and more conducive to a constructive international relations, than the thesis proposed by Samuel P. Huntington and popularised by successive US administrations of a ‘clash of civilisations’. While one emphasises ‘interchange’, the other emphasises conflict. While one challenges claims to colonial hegemony, the other justifies those claims.
With the ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative always lurking in the background of today’s media – whether it comes to the issues of refugees, terrorism, or war – it’s important to foreground arguments like McPherson’s in order to challenge the sway such narratives hold in the popular imagination.
Henry Ward is a writer and researcher from Perth. In 2016, he will be researching Westerly’s archive, focusing on its engagement with the Indian Ocean region, before moving to the USA to undertake a Phd candidature at the University of California, Irvine.