What Makes a Carpet Fly? Cultural Studies in the Indian Ocean

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Stephen Muecke


This paper aims to open up a cultural studies conversation on the Indian Ocean. Knowledge of the Indian Ocean should be born of the problems encountered in situ, rather than viewed and assessed from afar in erstwhile colonial centres. Networks and institutional links have to be created to sustain an interdisciplinary conversation leading to this decolonisation of knowledge. In investigating the interplay of commerce and culture, this paper abandons the critical separation of the two in favour of a critical engagement with forces of globalisation. As a precolonial global economy, the Indian Ocean offers considerable historical depth to the current ranking of economic powers. But within a general problematic of the theory of value, there is no doubt that cultural forms (narratives, myths religious beliefs, artefacts) are fundamental to the organising forces of trade, and not just ‘adding value’ in market transactions.

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