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In this pioneering volume, leading scholars from a diversity of backgrounds in the humanities, social sciences, and different area studies argue for a more differentiated and self-reflected role of area-based science in global knowledge production. Considering that the mobility of people, goods, and ideas make the world more complex and geographically fixed categories increasingly obsolete, the authors call for a reflection of this new dynamism in research, teaching, and theorizing. The book thus moves beyond the constructed divide between area studies and systematic disciplines and instead proposes methodological and conceptual ways for encouraging the integration of marginalized and often overseen epistemologies. Essays on the ontological, theoretical, and pedagogical dimension of area studies highlight how people’s everyday practices of mobility challenge scholars, students, and practitioners of inter- and transdisciplinary area studies to transcend the cognitive boundaries that scholarly minds currently operate in.



Area Studies at the Crossroads


Introduction: Knowledge Production, Area Studies and the Mobility Turn

Calls for interdisciplinary and transregional Area Studies research have become ever more pressing. They are necessary to address the fact that the geographically fixed categories in which our world operates are increasingly characterized by degrees of dynamism that no longer justify a division of the world into territorially fixed units. By considering the current debate on Area Studies, as well as comparative insights, recent reinterpretations and innovations in the field, the introduction provides a frame for the subsequent ontological, theoretical, methodological and pedagogical reflections on Area Studies at the Crossroads. Indicative of this rethinking process are various forms of mobility and mobilization processes, borders and boundaries, processes of boundary production, weakening and crossing, as well as a deepened emphasis on reflexivity and considerations of positionality. This process is then conceptualized as part of a larger ethical-pzolitical project that Area Studies should take on in challenging science policy and academic power structures.
Katja Mielke, Anna-Katharina Hornidge

The Neoliberal University and Global Immobilities of Theory

Neoliberal globalization is reinforcing geographically based forms of domination that emerged in the era of imperialism, reinforcing divides between metropolitan centres of power and marginalized groups and societies on the global periphery. This is also true of academic analysis and theory production. The transnational neoliberal regime of so-called academic quality assessment is entrenching Euro-American intellectual dominance and Euro-Amerocentric forms of thinking, creating a global division of academic labour between an ostensibly theoretical ‘West’ and an empirical ‘Rest’. More than merely theoretical responses are needed to challenge the regime of power over twenty-first century knowledge production. New forms of academic activism must be developed to challenge the extra-epistemological barriers that obstruct the emergence of a level playing field in the world academy.
Peter A. Jackson

To Be or Not to Be Is Not the Question. Rethinking Area Studies in Its Own Right


Doing Area Studies in the Americas and Beyond: Towards Reciprocal Methodologies and the Decolonization of Knowledge

The entanglement of knowledge, space and power in Area Studies is the topic of this chapter, which aims to provide an outline for a reconceptualization of the Americas as a space of entanglement as well as elements for the decolonization of knowledge. The chapter begins with a short discussion on the emergence and dynamics of Area Studies in and on the Americas. Thereby the construction of the “area” of the Americas is analyzed in terms of coloniality. In the main part, this contribution discusses two aspects that are highly relevant to Area Studies: space and knowledge. First, it proposes a framework to rethink hemispheric Area Studies in terms of the—still fuzzy—concept of the Americas as a space of entanglement. Second, it criticizes the hegemonic geopolitics of knowledge and proposes dialogical, entangled methodologies. The chapter ends with a plea for a relational and pluri-topic Area Studies that reflect power relations and that do not fix or define the meaning of areas.
Olaf Kaltmeier

Area Studies @ Southeast Asia: Alternative Areas versus Alternatives to Areas

This chapter aims to develop steps towards an Area Science instead of a mere Area Studies. It is argued that areas may be conceived as an amalgam of material surfaces plus spatial relations plus concepts of these spatial features. Thus the core of area science is to be seen in a moderately realist theory and methodology of socio-spatial relations. Southeast Asia is extremely diverse, currently has no truly regional power and historically was a mixing zone with no hegemonic dominant civilization. Thus Southeast Asia provides a suitable laboratory and ‘litmus test’ for any area approach. Exemplified by Southeast Asia, it is shown that network and family resemblance are the two most fruitful concepts to allow for a critically reflected yet empirically oriented Area Science.
Christoph Antweiler

Between Ignoring and Romanticizing: The Position of Area Studies in Policy Advice

In the field of Peace, Conflict and Security Studies, international think tanks as well as ministries deal with Area Studies in structuring their work and organization. Taking the example of the international intervention in Afghanistan, this chapter illustrates the ramifications of the conventional Area Studies approach with its assumption that each area, every country, and every local context is shaped by an essentialized set of cultural norms and social practices. Critiquing that Area Studies are is too often treated in think tanks as an ancillary science, which should provide the technical knowledge for practical solutions only, the chapter argues for a different understanding of Area Studies in policy advice. Area expertise needs a ‘thick knowledge’ about everyday practices, as well as the institutions, moralities and worldviews of a society. This knowledge enables area experts to go beyond confining themselves to merely informing policymakers; instead they can also actively fulfill a necessary questioning function.
Conrad Schetter

Knowledge Production after the Mobility Turn


Positionality and the Relational Production of Place in the Context of Student Migration to Gilgit, Pakistan

This chapter explores the different lifeworlds and socio-spatial environments in which male and female Wakhi student migrants from Gojal are situated after moving from their rural high mountain valley for higher education to Gilgit, the major city and educational centre of the Gilgit-Baltistan region in northern Pakistan. It introduces and presents selected places as key arenas of the student migrants’ everyday lives and interactions, such as the village place, public space in Gilgit town, the female hostel place, and the campus place of the Karakorum International University. It shows how the migrants’ socio-spatial positionality is modified and renegotiated in these places and describes the ways in which in turn these places are reshaped through the migrant’s (inter-) actions.
Andreas Benz

Red Lines for Uncivilized Trade? Fixity, Mobility and Positionality on Almaty’s Changing Bazaars

For two decades, the agglomeration of wholesale and retail bazaars, renowned across Kazakhstan as Almaty’s Barakholka, has thrived as the hub for trans-Eurasian trade flows. However, steps by Almaty’s city authorities, aiming to “modernize” urban trade, have questioned Barakholka’s continued existence. This chapter explores the meanings of positionality, fixity and mobility in narratives of actors affected by the current transformation of the bazaars. It points out that a perspective towards representations of socio-political connectedness and boundedness, as well as interactions between individual trade actors, helps to elucidate how remoteness and centrality coexist and perpetuate each other in one place. The chapter thus seeks to question the essentializing logic that is prevalent in classical Area Studies, and to focus on the dynamics of actor-based meaning-making in the construction of place(s).
Henryk Alff

Margins or Center? Konkani Sufis, India and “Arabastan”

The study of Muslim interactions across the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent have popularly constructed Northern Indian Muslim culture as either Islamic or pre- or anti-Islamic. It is only sporadically recognized that non-Islamic regions were equally subject to Islamic influences. The Konkan coast in Maharashtra constitutes one such example that was deeply influenced by Sufi saints from Arabastan (the Arabian Peninsula). Konkani Sufi Muslims demarcated themselves as different from North Indian Sufi Muslims, viewing Konkan as a ‘verandah’ to both India and Arabastan simultaneously. By doing so, Konkani Sufis collapsed complex regional and religious dichotomies and constructed a conceptual region that evaded both Islamic and Hindutva hegemony, especially as Konkani Muslims continued to speak in Konkani, which subverted the politics of Urdu and Marathi nationalism.
Deepra Dandekar

From Local Realities to Concepts and Theorizing


The Role of Area Studies in Theory Production: A Differentiation of Mid-Range Concepts and the Example of Social Order

The chapter discusses the relevance of area studies as a potential field of theory production and argues for mid-range concept development as an important contribution of and for Area studies in social theorizing and knowledge production. A differentiation of three categories of mid-range concepts, each with a different scope and implicit underlying methodologies, is introduced. Given that mid-range concept development relies on the long-term immersion of individual researchers in the social context or the textual sources and archives from which the data originates, the enabling conditions and necessary skills for mid-range concept development are discussed. The potential of mid-range concept development is illustrated with the example of Social Order as a third type of mid-range concept, which can serve as an epistemological lens to facilitate reflective exploratory data generation and theorizing.
Katja Mielke, Andreas Wilde

The Production of Knowledge in the Field of Development and Area Studies: From Systems of Ignorance to Mid-Range Concepts for Global Ethnography

Given the long tradition of regional studies, local case studies and avoidance of transfer of eurocentric concepts in development research, fundamental methodological reconsidering seems in order within a process of globalizing social science. An interactive approach based on sociology of knowledge, ‘grounded theory’ and ‘global ethnography’ focuses on negotiation of global development visions at interfaces of global, regional, translocal and local institutions. Such mid-range conceptualizations include meanings or translation of visions and concepts in translocal social spaces, leaving behind agency/structure as well as micro/macro distinctions and thereby overcoming boundaries of knowledge production. Whereas methodologies can still be built on disciplinary and regional ground, such as global ethnography and certain forms of theory building based on regional traditions, classical distinctions of development, regional or world-system studies can be overcome through new forms of interdisciplinarity such as transnationalization and globalization studies.
Gudrun Lachenmann

New Area Studies, Translation and Mid-Range Concepts

This chapter starts by revisiting the Anglo-American debate on Area Studies. After having been exposed to fundamental criticism and its partial replacement by new interdisciplinary study formats, the potential of Area Studies had been rediscovered on the basis of a reassessment of their relationship to disciplinary knowledge production. The author then moves on to outline the epistemological and methodological bases of new Area Studies. At its core is what he refers to as a double-layered hermeneutic circular “motor” involving a highly reflexive and mutually reinforcing determination of four variables: area, theme, perspective and epistemology. The final part of the chapter explains how new Area Studies functions in concrete research. This includes a three-step approach, moving from situational analysis to translation and finally to mid-level analysis based on the coining of middle-range concepts.
Vincent Houben

Mid-Range Concepts—The Lego Bricks of Meaning-Making: An Example from Khorezm, Uzbekistan

Drawing on the intricate pattern of boundary negotiations in Uzbekistan’s water management (Hornidge et al. Natural Resources Forum 35(4); 251–268, 2013) as an example of first-level abstraction in local governance research, this chapter illustrates how such first-level abstractions—grasped and objectified as mid-range concepts—can act as entry points for understanding (in line with Max Weber) local society in the interconnectedness of meaning and being (as stressed by Karl Mannheim). Just like Lego bricks, these first-level abstractions act as building blocks of sense- and meaning-making and, thus, of the ontologies and epistemologies we/society lives in and that guide processes of social differentiation (inherent to any existing form of governance) through the ever continuing processes of boundary-making, -weakening and -renegotiating. To enable Area Studies students to identify first-level abstractions, instead of getting lost in the increasing empirical complexities of a mobile world, it is pertinent to systematically strengthen critical social theory in Area Studies teaching.
Anna-Katharina Hornidge

De-Streamlining Academic Society: Pedagogy and Teaching


The Case for Reconceptualizing Southeast Asian Studies

In contrast to the general scenario of gloom in Europe is the cheerful state of affairs of Area Studies in Asia, where ever more ground and importance are being gained. Taking Southeast Asian Studies as a case study, this chapter argues that there are different “Southeast Asia’s” to study. The very cultural complexity and differentiation within the region necessitates a broader “heuristic approach” in the academic inquiry of the region. The intention of exploring and discussing this heuristic approach is to put into orbit reflection, analysis, discussion, and argumentation for the purpose of facilitating new ideas and discoveries with which we may reconsider our picture of what “regions” are and reflect on how we can rethink Area Studies.
Cynthia Chou

This Area Is [NOT] under Quarantine: Rethinking Southeast/Asia through Studies of the Cinema

This paper takes the chronotopes, or the spatiotemporal properties, of contemporary Southeast Asian cinema as an occasion to inquire into the ways in which both the region’s new cinemas and scholarship in this field allow us to rethink humanities approaches to the ‘area’ of Southeast Asia and to pedagogies of Asia more broadly. I wish to draw attention to a mode of analysis that exceeds the merely spatial logics of cinema and area, and to argue that new Area Studies pedagogies cannot forego the concomitant consideration of temporality. A focus on the chronotopes of (Southeast) Asian cinemas significantly strengthens the study of the region as multiply networked in time and space, rather than bounded by geography and the conventions of traditional area scholarship.
Arnika Fuhrmann

Teaching to Transgress: Crossroads Perspective and Adventures in (?)-Disciplinarity

This paper argues that there is a growing need for scholars and their students to actively engage in postdisciplinary ventures in order to adequately study much of today’s phenomena, all of which require consideration of the complexity and inherent fluid dynamism of everyday life. Furthermore, it is posited that taking such a radical and all-embracing approach to research necessitates a form of teaching to transgress, which includes a reflexive praxis of nurturing within oneself, and in others, an ability to cross the boundaries around and within given epistemological and ontological borders. Additionally, it requires epistemic disobedience, border consciousness, and a conscious positionality to engage in the co-construction of knowledges from, within and on the many contested in-betweens, which are so full of promise and ambiguity.
Epifania A. Amoo-Adare

Anticipating the Future of Area Studies


Are Transregional Studies the Future of Area Studies?

This chapter discusses several implications of the recent Area Studies debate, including the hypothesis that Area Studies are likely to become global studies in light of the increasingly observed mobility of goods, ideas, people, and capital across conventional boundaries. Insisting on the continued relevance of regions and observing that different generations of area or regional studies not only coexist but also interact, while successive historical eras provoke new kinds of areas as well as reflexive configurations of old ones, the author argues for a transregional perspective. Such a transregional perspective bears the potential to renew the relationship between Area Studies and macro-interpretations as developed in global studies, global history, or interpretations of global processes within the social sciences. Transregional Studies do not therefore replace Area Studies but add urgent and necessary new perspectives, subjects, and eventually also new methodological approaches.
Matthias Middell

Reflecting the Moving Target of Asia

Representatives from the social sciences and cultural studies continue to exhibit mutual reservations and sensitivities when they encounter each other in the field of Area Studies. This is particularly so with regard to research on Asia, where interdisciplinarity is often simply paid lip service rather than utilized as a serious opportunity for collaboration. Given this background, this chapter discusses various approaches to describing the sub-regions of East and Southeast Asia. It argues that the communicative construction of areas is a process subject to dialectical movements of de- and reterritorialization, which should be examined as issues of equal empirical rank. Using the term “reflexive essentialism”, the chapter aims to encourage a more systematic reflection on simultaneous entrenchments and essentialist self-assurances from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Heike Holbig

Concluding Reflections: The Art of Science Policy for 21st Century Area Studies

The neoliberalization of the system of scientific production lays parallel to a content-driven realization for the need to overcome disciplinary boundaries, and boundaries between different socio-politically contextualized science systems. Area Studies so far have little engaged in this discussion on inter- and transdisciplinary forms of knowledge production that increasingly scrutinize the role of science and its disciplines in and for society. The conclusion reflects on what role Area Studies can and should play in a system of scientific knowledge production continuously gearing towards greater integration—across disciplinary divides, as well as across divides between different science systems and their respective epistemologies. It points out that the often-heard claim for mainstreaming Area Studies to exploit their suitability for context-sensitive research and their inherent awareness of entanglements and increasing global connectedness falls short of the actual potential of Area Studies for knowledge production after the mobility turn. Instead, and concluding the volume, the chapter argues for science policymaking for (a) analytical, emancipatory Area Studies, (b) mobile, transregional Area Studies and (c) Area Studies in and for interdisciplinarity in the twenty-first century.
Anna-Katharina Hornidge, Katja Mielke


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