Comparative Area Studies as a Collaborative Research Agenda
Statement about the conference “Areas and Disciplines” by Bert Hoffmann
In the past, the relation between area studies and the social science disciplines has been a tense one. Typically scholars from the disciplines criticized area studies for their lack of theoretical interest and methodological rigor, for their parochialism and what they saw as “horizontal ignorance”. Area studies scholars typically reproached the mainstream disciplines’ OECD bias, generalizing European / North American experiences and ignoring scholarly work from the areas, their superficial case knowledge (“vertical ignorance”) and their lack of language and cultural understanding.However, there has also been a self-critical appraisal from within area studies. One (not the only one) of these has been the rise of comparative area studies to overcome the limitations of traditional single-area studies and to foster comparative approaches that allow better links to the disciplinary debates. In this understanding, Comparative Area Studies (CAS) can be defined as a scholarly field of study that combines the context sensitivity and expertise of area studies with the explicit use of comparative methods as a means to generate both, contributions to broader disciplinary and theoretical debates, and better insights into the cases.
Hence, the cognitive interest of CAS encompasses generalisation as well as specification. At the Hamburg-based German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) the turn to a Comparative Area Studies approach has been based on an organizational transformation from what had been four separate area institutes under a loose roof into a single institute, based on an institutional matrix, in which four regional institutes and four cross-cutting research programmes bring scholars with diverse area expertise into a common and continuous research dynamics. Hence, in its essence, Comparative Area Studies is very much a collaborative research endeavor.