Globalizing Knowledge Through Area StudiesSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Debating the place of area studies in the academy is a peculiarly American angst. This is not because area studies is absent elsewhere in the world. In my own tradition of Russian and East European studies, I have regularly collaborated with scholars from Europe, Japan, and the region itself around social science questions. Too, I have learned from colleagues elsewhere in the world-Shanghai's Fudan University most recently-that American studies, European studies and other area studies are part and parcel of their internationalism. Some have wondered, however, whether area studies rests on an anachronistic approach to international scholarship, especially for leading American institutions of higher education. Recent conferences on this subject organized by Dartmouth College at the Salzburg Seminar, by the Ford Foundation in Sonoma and by various units of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and elsewhere suggest quite the contrary, however. Area studies helps constitute a field of discussion where some of the most critical questions of globalizing knowledge can be addressed.
The Location of Expertise
One significant critique of area studies rests in its association with Orientalism, with the gaze of the imperialist subject. During one U-M seminar on "Science, Ethics and Power" Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, professor and director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai'i-Manoa, asked how Hawaiian studies could be conducted properly when so-called area experts cannot even pronounce her name, much less speak her language? Fortunately, knowledge cultures can change, and this is reflected nowhere better than in the debate her questions illustrate. What is the relationship between indigenous knowledge and other claims to expertise about any society and its place in broader frameworks? It is impossible for area studies to function today without considering such a question. But one might also argue that without area studies, these fundamental questions would have very limited footing in a globalizing American academy.
Historians and anthropologists might raise them regardless of area studies' presence, as the series organized by Fernando Coronil illustrates. But what allows the questions posed by history and anthropology to travel beyond their disciplinary locations? While other interdisciplinary formations are possible, cultural studies being the most obvious example, area studies offers a potentially broader framework. With its immediate origins in the Cold War, the American government and philanthropic associations, notably the Ford Foundation, invested enormous resources to enable American scholars to understand particular world regions. Although significant variations emerged across both universities and studies of different world regions, a vital area studies program had to include experts in language, culture, history and political, economic and social institutions.
But this constellation was not written in stone. With the end to the Cold War, some area studies programs expanded significantly to include those beyond the familiar humanities and social science disciplines. Scholars from professional schools, notably in business, law, public health and urban planning among others, became central participants in area studies programs. Their participation, however, also meant that area studies would not remain the same. On the one hand, this means that Dr. Kame'eleihiwa's question can have a broader audience, but it also means that alongside her question about indigenous knowledge this new assembly poses questions that does not privilege the encounter between humanities and social sciences. In particular, area studies must address its relationship to globalizing expertise, one of three elements animating our own contribution to the Ford Foundation's investment in revitalizing area studies through crossing borders.
David William Cohen organized a provocative seminar on the transformations of expertise attending globalization. As the contributions published in this issue illustrate, this new expertise is both secure and insecure in important new ways. Some fields of expertise have achieved a prominence in global organization that extends well beyond their location in national fields. Human rights and accounting have become exceptionally prominent illustrations of expertise in the (re)organization of the world system, but they also illustrate profoundly important changes in the legitimizatation and organization of knowledge. In the latter case, the American legal profession has lost important regulatory power in the organization of their work as the "Big Five" accounting firms redefine the relationship between professions in a new transnational space. In the former, victims establish claims to authority based on their experience, while others adjudicate those claims in new assemblies of precedent that redefine sovereignty and legal immunity internationally. Globalization itself has produced a new need for scholars who can explain how the information revolution, global finance and environmental degradation have radically altered our notions of governance and security that were once the province of a political science subfield.
However new bodies of expertise are transfigured, their residence in global networks makes their authorization difficult. Professions have depended on states to validate their legitimacy in practice. Globalization's elevation of markets in regulating social life means that expertise could become even more commodified, where claims to competence can be challenged as representing interests that are not only foreign, but also commercially interested. Expertise may need to develop a new cultural authority in which its claims to socially appropriate knowledge can be developed, especially when it cannot rely on a nation state to credential that expertise. In this sense, we might extend Dr. Kame'eleihiwa's question beyond those who claim to write about Hawaiian history. What happens to transnational expertise when it lands in systems of authority where its claims to know-how are not taken for granted, and might even be suspect? Where American rules apply, Dr. Kame'eleihiwa's challenge may look academic, but when those rules are established by other political and cultural authorities, expertise grounded in the American academy and in Western practice might find difficulty in translation.
Globalizing universities must find ways to learn how their own bodies of knowledge articulate with the histories, cultures and institutions of the places in which their expertise lands. Area studies offers an invaluable resource for recognizing and addressing that challenge of difference in the translation of transnational expertise. One might even draw lessons for this engagement from another of our initiatives enabled by the Ford Foundation's project in revitalizing area studies, as well as from the experience of the Salzburg Seminar itself.
The Grounds of Questions
When one moves beyond familiar grounds, the terms of dialogue can sometimes change. This, at least, was one of the premises motivating three Harvard students to found in 1947 the Salzburg Seminar, where "young Europeans from all countries, and of all political convictions, could meet for a month in concrete work under favorable living conditions". The Seminar's mission has certainly broadened geographically in the last fifty-five years, but the transformative experience remains, and becomes even more important when one envisions globalization's university challenge. During the June 2001 session on "Globalizing the Academy" organized by Dartmouth College, I learned very quickly that it is very difficult to pose strategies, or even questions, that enjoy pan-optic privilege.
American universities find enormous possibilities across the world for extending academic opportunity. This niche-seeking is not, of course, the only way to establish international academic collaboration. The European Union has moved dramatically through its Erasmus and Socrates programs to establish ties not only among the universities of its official space but also beyond in candidate countries and in America. Each represents very different models of international collaboration, with very different presumptions about the proper rules for universities to follow beyond their nations.
Beyond the question of rules there is also one of resources. Colleagues from North and Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America were quick to point out the ways in which wealth enables certain questions about globalization to be posed, while others can be ignored. Brain drain is certainly the most common problem associated with globalization for those with more limited resources, but even international collaborations can sometimes be a challenge. This has led colleagues from South Africa to work with their international partners to define up front expectations from collaboration, so as to avoid potentially exploitative relationships.
By contrast, our colleagues from China identified international collaborations as aresource in and of itself, reinforced by the extraordinary investments the Chinese authorities have made in nine research universities. This concentration of internationalization means, as in Korea and in Japan, a reduction in the number of universities poised to go global. International collaboration is, therefore, not only about cooperation, but also about competition. And competition exists not only across nations, but also within them.
We would, however, overlook significant issues were we to leave the matter entirely to a question about the academy's political economy and educational policy. For example, I telegraphed very subtle and complicated discussions into simple positions associated with geographic location in the paragraphs above. I furthermore didn't have the expertise to recognize what lay beyond the official discussion, or our English lingua franca. I could go much further with my colleague from Warsaw University in Polish, but this only helped me to appreciate what I could not know in Chinese and Portuguese. And it helped me to appreciate the significance of area studies, not only for encouraging linguistic facility beyond ancestral voices, but also for encouraging me to appreciate the grounds of questions. This was especially apparent in Istanbul just a few weeks earlier.
Our Ford Foundation seminar in Istanbul was built on a U-M tradition of "traveling seminars"-holding workshops in places beyond Ann Arbor in order to provide different contexts and frameworks for engaging theoretical issues with colleagues from other places. The U-M's Fatma Muge Gocek and Bogazici University's Ayse organized this seminar in comparative cultural politics to explore those sensibilities behind apparently similar phenomena, and to use those backstage schema to pose different kinds of questions and comparisons. In particular, this workshop sought to make more explicit the limits to and value of grounding in existing historiographical and cultural contexts, and the benefits of translating those problematics to other grounds not typically covered. This seminar featured work by 11 American, Polish and Turkish graduate students, with invited faculty from Turkey, Poland, and Turkish and Polish area studies to serve as commentators. Reflecting additional investment from the University of Michigan, six other U-M scholars-in African, American and African American Studies, German Studies and Latin American Studies-provided additional feedback.
While Poland and Turkey enjoy frequent collaboration with scholars from the United States, and especially from Ann Arbor, their cultural politics are not typically juxtaposed. However, there are many intriguing parallels between a focus on Poland and Eastern Europe and Turkey and the Middle East-issues regarding religion's place in public life, the role of the cultural elite in defining national identities and the meaning of transformation, especially in view of Europe. While these parallels could have been drawn in anticipation of this conference, the local grounds of intellectual discussion came to the fore over commonalities invented in advance.
Although I have long been interested in intellectuals and the articulation of the nation, I was not prepared for its centrality in Turkish discussions. Consider the questions featured among our Turkish colleagues-Ottoman philanthropy and a "different" public sphere from Europe; the ways in which the changing headgear of Ataturk, and the succeeding hat law reflected Turkish differences from Europe; the psychoanalytic dimensions of Ataturk's living influence on Turkish identity; the ambivalent meanings of a museum's display of Turkish archaeological remains from the Hittite era onward to the civilizational claims of the Turkish nation; the humanization of Ataturk in Turkish youth movements; how Turkish migrant settlements negotiate with NGOs to present new claims to modernity. Beyond the significance of the nation, one is also struck by the salience of area studies in the definition of Turkish social science. Of course, our Turkish colleagues may not identify with area studies, for much the same reason that most American scholars who focus on American experiences don't typically identify with American area studies. However, unlike many American colleagues in international conferences, our Turkish colleagues recognize that one can't assume familiarity with Turkish history and culture. Engaging broad social and cultural theory becomes one means to transcend that limitation. Invoking Pierre Bourdieu is one strategy for translation. Comparative work is another.
Some comparisons are, however, more globally resonant than others. One of our colleagues sought to explain how cultural productions were being deployed to overcome the polarizations resulting from the forced Turkish-Greek population exchange of 1923. The author sought to explain how an eastern Mediterranean identity, itself an identity sought by the cultural producers themselves, might be constructed through books and music. This comparison, however, was itself grounded in a vibrant cultural politics around the East Mediterranean. Another paper seemed to recognize no borders. Its comparison between the cultural politics of shopping malls in Jakarta and in Istanbul stimulated the broadest commentary not only because it crossed national boundaries, but also because of the global problematic with which it engaged. Shopping malls appear "familiar" to all scholars, regardless of their grounding in North America, Latin America, Europe or Africa. Social science can thrive on the familiar, especially when papers like this one enable us to recognize something new in what we thought we already understood. However, it also makes me worry that our global scholarship may rest too heavily on our least common denominators, or how world regions articulate with those global themes. And here, my own regional expertise in area studies carries an advantage.
The seminar's papers on Eastern Europe were strongly embedded in area studies traditions-with one paper on how the Bosnian legacy in the recent wars has been attacked; another on how the Slovak linguistic distinction developed historically; and a third regarding how Polish cultural politics shape the contest over the meaning of Auschwitz. But alongside Turkish papers, I appreciated something new in these studies of Eastern Europe. I recognized how easily these refined and detailed inquiries of local cultural politics fit into middle-range theories of nationalism, transition and war. Eastern European area studies appears less distant from global scholarship in part because the region has become more important to global studies of democratization, privatization and accession to the European Union. East European area studies expertise hardly appears imperialist, at least in comparison to the way in which our Turkish colleagues posed the dangers of the Orientalist gaze. Drawing on the example of South Asia's sub-altern studies, they sought not only to clarify questions of Turkish cultural politics, but also to highlight the limiting grounds of our general theories.
In this sense, area studies helps the American academy realize two very important things in its global ambitions: 1) It provides contextual expertise as a critical complement to more transnational claims to competence; and 2) It helps to ground those transnational claims, from social theory to transnational expertise and university strategy, in the particular histories and cultures of their making. In the end, however, area studies promises even more.
Critical Scholarship Through Area Studies
When my colleagues from East Central Europe visit, I can count on their challenge of framing: how can we continue to frame our study of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic within East European studies when their own reference point lies so obviously to their west? Isn't this another example of the contaminating origins of area studies? To be sure, this would be a major problem for our study of East Central Europe if we weren't historical in our approach and flexible in our sense of meaningful contiguities. One of the critical strengths of our recently successful application to the European Commission for the founding of a European Union Center certainly rested on our capacity to address questions of EU accession for East Central Europe.
On the other hand, one of the greatest strengths of area studies rests in its historical depth. It is too easy for international studies to be defined by present-day concerns, and historical scholarship to be consigned to its departments. Historical scholarship on the Cold War itself is vitally important not only for rethinking American foreign policy, but the foundations on which globalization is itself built. Indeed, one might go further to argue that expertise itself is most usefully reconsidered when we consider not only their modern formation but their earlier approximations, as one conference will consider this fall.
Nevertheless, at the root of this concern about East Central Europe's location might rest an even more profound question: is our spatial imagination up to the task of revitalizing area studies, much less globalizing the academy? The geographer Neil Smith challenged us in Sonoma to consider the deeper theoretical issues about space implicit in area studies and globalization's sense. I agree. Our work on grounding, and its implicit association with various senses of proximity and connectivity, is not conducted with a sufficiently explicit spatial theory. Consider, for example, the ways in which "relevance" of scholarship is established. Whose spaces are familiar enough to inform "general" social theory? Whose stories in and which experiences of truth and reconciliation commissions travel most easily? Which places become important for the American academy to understand and through which criteria? The distinction of the European Union is to be sure more important to understand in the wake of General Electric's failed acquisition of Honeywell than theorists of globalization perhaps at one time considered. But what kind of event would make those interested in the big questions of scholarly, or public, life care about those condemned to distance from globalization's promise?
Area studies promises to inform leading scholarship not only by realizing its commitment to global diversity, but also by providing a site in which far broader notions of intellectual rigor might be engaged. In Sonoma, Jane Guyer invited us to consider not only those disciplines associated with professional associations, but also those disciplines of thought around argumentation, performance, empirical investigation and technical precision that have emerged from the crucible of area studies' inquiry. One reason many areas of the world go understudied is because packaged data may not be so reliable for technical analysis. However, it is often in these very sites where empirical rigor, associated with new standards of argumentation and performance, might itself render the global university much more capacious not only in the extension of its grounds, but in the recognition of the limits to its understanding.
Here, then, area studies might find revitalization, but not through laments about the loss of funding or about disciplinary trajectories in model building. Instead, area studies can find their place by moving to consider not only how to articulate their own expertise in historical periods and particular places, but to find ways to establish that grounding as a point of departure for rearticulating the expertise that might move universities beyond their nations. Area studies should help to clarify the conditions that make international collaboration and transnational expertise possible. It should identify why some places resonate with global visions while others remain invisible. Area studies can provide the setting for scholars with different disciplines of thought to explain why the academy should not only invest in places that pose the greatest commercial threat or political disturbance, or promise the greatest markets for students or the greatest potentials in scientific collaborations. Above all, area studies should be the conduit for making our visions a little less certain, and simultaneously a bit more ambitious, in articulating a university that identifies with publics across the world. And that might be why the debate about area studies is a peculiarly American angst.
On the one hand, American universities may be wealthy enough to have area studies complement other more professionalized disciplines. On the other hand, American universities may debate it only because they need it the most. Where universities in other nations can never forget that globalizations are plural in their conceptions, as well as their translations, American universities can very well imagine that "globalization is U.S." And to presume the future as a smooth extension of that fantasy is likely to assure the very demise of the globalization system, whatever its potentials. Area studies should help us to remember the limits of American common sense. And it might even help us bring more of the world's diversity into the heart of the global, if still American, university.
The Salzburg Seminar: The First Fifty Years Salzburg, 1997:6. See also http://www.salzburgseminar.org
See website http://www.umich.edu/~iinet/CrossingBorders/istanbulworkshop.html for list of papers and participants.