Getting personal: key to Asia success

18 October 2015

Prof David Lowe, new ASSA Fellow, is seeking more qualitative research on our inter-country relationships.

Closer, longer-term relationships between individuals across cultures are needed, if Australia is to build stronger connections and commercial interactions with our Asian neighbours, suggests Deakin’s Chair of Contemporary History, Professor David Lowe.

Professor Lowe has recently been elected a Fellow of the prestigious Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) - Australia’s peak social sciences academy that crosses 18 disciplines.

Professor Lowe is the fourth Deakin historian to receive an ASSA Fellowship and the only historian to receive one this year.

With a research focus on international relations and Australia in world affairs, he argues that an in-depth historical understanding of our cross-cultural relationships is crucial for progress, particularly as we enter an era of globalisation and the “Asian Century.”

“In terms of understanding our engagement with Asia, there is a need for more qualitative research that can improve our understanding of how we can build quality relationships and improve our public conversations,” he said.

“Australia has been good at quantitative assessments, such as counting tourist numbers or volumes of iron ore exports, but we have been less good at looking at the quality of our inter-country relationships and bringing issues to the surface.

“The history of our relationships in the region has been a roller coaster of successes and failures. Of course, political differences have played a role, but those dynamics are changing substantially.

"We have relatively few commercial relationships in Indonesia, for instance, despite its geographical proximity and huge commercial potential.”

Since joining Deakin in 1991 from Cambridge University, Professor Lowe has established himself as one of Australia’s leading contemporary historians. He has published numerous articles and four books on Australia's involvement in wars, including the Cold War, and aspects of Australia's overseas policies after the Second World War.

He is also an expert on the role of memory in foreign relations and national identity, and is currently researching how countries such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia remember their moments of independence from colonial rule.

As Director, for five years, of Deakin’s former Alfred Deakin Research Institute, which merged with the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation earlier this year, Professor Lowe played a key role in developing Deakin’s humanities and social sciences research footprint, co-founding the Australian Policy and History network and gaining a position on the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Editorial Advisory Board.

He also lectures in the high-powered Master of Strategic Studies that is offered to senior military personnel and public servants at the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies in Canberra.

Professor Lowe notes that one promising initiative that will improve our intercultural relationships is the New Colombo Plan, which is supporting Australian undergraduates to undertake internships in Asia.

“The original Colombo Plan was successful in achieving a flow of Asian students to Australia, with many participants cherishing the opportunity to mix with Australians in their homes, hosted by organisations such as Lions Clubs and individual families.

"There was a thickening of relationships for many of these people that has had second generation flow-on benefits,” he said.

“Now, the New Colombo Plan is providing a flow the other way, supporting Australian students to spend time in Asia. The longer they can stay the better, so they can build strong connections and gain long-term benefits.

“Our relationships with Asia will benefit from more research that focuses on the human face of interactions. Whether it be through Rotary Clubs, church groups, student associations, NGOs, academics or banking and finance, there are rich stories of people-to-people engagements that we are only still beginning to appreciate.”

ASSA Fellow, Professor David Lowe. ASSA Fellow, Professor David Lowe.

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