Challenges for the field of Area Studies

Statement about the conference “Areas and Disciplines” by Matthias Middell

The field of area studies is currently facing a couple of interesting challenges: societal demand for knowledge about seemingly far away regions is growing and international trends of cooperation between individual area studies under paradigms that address global trends become more and more attractive while at the same time area studies are often presented as endangered species in the struggle for survival. As an effect we can observe different strategies to cope with these challenges:

  • Transregional research designs and institutionalization (first and foremost in the field of research, be it comparative or the study of entanglements): often encouraged by research grants from DFG and alike; the training of young scholars in Graduate Schools etc. is not only influenced but often a forerunner to this trend.
  • Transnational cooperation networks: here the focus on one particular region remains intact, ties are strengthened with people from the region itself; area expertise is deepened. This trend is supported and supportive at the same time by/ to all kinds of internationalization strategies, funding included.
  • Refusal of cooperation with other area studies as well as with social sciences, history and cultural studies as an effective defense strategy within universities: the arguments range from tradition and the necessary specialization (linguistic competencies and experience with field work included) to the lack of resources for more than sustainable monochromatic study programs.

Given the fact that configurations differ from university to university it is necessary to complement local and disciplinary structures by transversal ones along the above mentioned strategies.


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