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Which Way is West?

Leaders from the Group of Seven meeting in Cornwall, England. Image via Number 10, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

One of the fun aspects of the China-Africa Project is that we don’t always agree. The work of pulling in different perspectives means that how we see reality is itself a negotiation, drawing on our different backgrounds. For example, one of the issues where Eric and I diverge is on whether the concept of The West makes any sense.

Eric – drawing on both his American heritage and the significant time he’s spent in Europe – has pointed out many times that what seems like a tight cross-Atlantic coalition is actually a lot less coherent than it seems. Over the years, I have come to realize that my own perspective is different – as a white South African my heritage is fundamentally shaped by the historical legacy of both the Dutch and British empires (and many many hours of American media.) But in some ways my identity is less Western, and more Southern (hemisphere, that is.) In other words, my view of the West is crucially shaped by how it manifested in Africa, which was as a distant all-powerful monolith where Euro-American differences were a mere detail.

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