Think Tank (2/2024)
(L-R) Professor Michael Wesley and Asst Prof Michael Raska
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The Geopolitics of Knowledge
06 Mar 2024

RSIS Distinguished Visitor, Professor Michael Wesley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global, Culture and Engagement and Professor of Politics at the University of Melbourne; spoke at a seminar on 6 March 2024 titled “The Geopolitics of Knowledge”. The seminar focused on examining the nexus between the forces of geopolitics and knowledge – how geopolitics has shaped the creation and transmission of knowledge and technology and vice versa, and how developments in knowledge and technology have impacted geopolitics.

Prof Wesley employed the lens of history to illustrate the connection between geopolitics and knowledge. In the past, Europe represented the core of knowledge production and technological innovation, while the rest of the world were peripheral to the advancements made by Western powers. Universities were seen as fundamental to the development of national prestige and power. During the Second World War, the race for scientific breakthroughs and technological superiority among contending powers led to the strengthening of collaborations between militaries, industries and universities. The Cold War tightened the convergence between the geopolitical imperatives of nations and universities, with university research alliances enabling and reinforcing geopolitical alignments.

Prof Wesley went on to discuss the intersection of knowledge with geopolitics. He explained how advances in knowledge and technology have allowed coercive and disruptive power, as well as attractive power, to be deployed in ways that render geography irrelevant. He also highlighted how technological decisions are increasingly driven by geopolitical considerations. Prof Wesley referenced the ongoing technological rivalry between China and the United States and its wide-ranging implications on issues such as the adoption of technological platforms, the export of technologies, the allocation of research funding, and the governance of technical exchanges and university partnerships. Prof Wesley concluded his presentation by inviting participants to ponder the effects of geopolitical competition vis-à-vis the collaborative principles of knowledge creation.

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