“All things transregional?” in conversation with… Claudia Derichs
What does Transregional Research mean? Who can learn from its insights? What are its limits? The interview series “All Things Transregional?” addresses these issues to launch an open discussion. We invite researchers to share their experiences, assess key issues and future perspectives of transregional research.
Claudia Derichs, professor for Comparative Politics / International Development Studies at the University of Marburg, continues the discussion. We look forward to your comments! Already published: Sebastian Conrad, Monica Juneja, Matthias Middell, Madeleine Herren-Oesch, Thomas Maissen, Barbara Mittler, Miloš Řezník, Philipp Lepenies, Michael Goebel, Roland Wenzlhuemer, Steffen Wippel, Julia Verne, Birgit Schäbler, Christine Hatzky, Ulrike Lindner , Martin Dusinberre, and Leyla Dakhli.
What academic insights did you personally gain by investigating issues transregionally?
My own transregional research has always been most enriching – in several regards. My transregional engagement, if I may use such an expression, began by learning two languages, Japanese and Arabic. But instead of becoming a translator, the career for which I had been trained, I became more and more interested in politics. My PhD was still in Japanese Studies (a thesis on the Japanese “New Left” or radical Left, including terrorism), but my professorial dissertation (Habilitation) was submitted in the field of Political Science. By then, I had already worked a lot on Muslim majority countries in Southeast Asia – a perfect combination of “Asia” and “the Islamic Middle East” for me. Over the years, field work in both regions – Southeast Asia and Middle East /MENA – made me increasingly aware of the connectedness of the people across these regions. Ever since, I have devoted a lot of work on these kinds of connectedness and learnt that there is so much more to look at on a transregional level. Noticing hybrid language and studying multilingual booklets is highly revealing for the capture of what Steven Vertovec calls superdiversity. And I could list many more examples of what I deem really important for grasping or comprehending what is going on in our world.
What are the limits of transregional studies? What are the misunderstandings about the field?
I think there are clear limits to transregional studies, especially once too many regions are taken in to consideration. I think it is impossible to conduct solid research on more than two (world) regions for an individual scholar. Collective research is certainly possible and desirable. Without proper knowledge of languages, history and culture, research can only scratch the surface. This may be ok for quality journalism, but it does not hold for scholars. (Topics studied under the label of “Global Studies” are a different cup of tea.) Researching, let’s say, the educational networks between Southeast Asia and MENA definitely requires deeper knowledge of both regions.
How did the field of transregional research develop in the past ten years? How do you envision its future?
Well, when I think back to my days as a postdoc, that was a bitter time. I remember that my application for project funding was rejected even in the mid-2000s because one of the referees wrote that it were impossible to comparatively study two different regions such as Asia and the Middle East. I felt appalled since I had done exactly this throughout my life as a “grown-up” academic. And did not feel like a second class scholar because I had been trained properly for the task ahead. But those were the days … I am more than pleased that things have changed tremendously since then, although I do admit that there is a lot to be done in the future. When we look at, for instance, the higher education landscape in Germany, we see that the majority of universities still stick to the traditional pattern of segmenting the world: Japanese Studies, Chinese Studies, Korean Studies (sometimes labelled “East Asian Studies”), Southeast Asian Studies, African Studies, Middle East Studies etc. The translocal and transregional connectivities, both historically as well as contemporary, between regions or subregions escape the gaze. Fortunately, recent trends in the establishment of professorships for Mediterranean Studies or research on the Indian Ocean are very promising with regard to deconstructing entrenched regional segmentations. I hope this trend is lasting and will gradually translate into new study programs, departments and faculties in the German Area Studies landscape.
What academic works (literature) would you name as ground-breaking and trend-setting for the field of transregional research?
This is a difficult question because my perspective is incredibly narrow given the two regions that I feel familiar with. Generally, I think “big words” about the necessity of transregional research are important for addressing funding agencies and policy-makers in the field of education policy. Apart from that, any plea for transregional research has to somehow refer back to empirical cases in order to be credible and convincing. With regard to the latter, the academic market place has quite some solid studies to offer.
Claudia Derichs holds the Chair for Comparative Politics and International Development Studies at Philipps University of Marburg since March 2010. Before coming to Marburg, she held the Chair for Political Science at University of Hildesheim from 2007 to 2010. Previously, she was an Assistant professor at the University Duisburg-Essen. She studied Japanology, Arabic and Social Sciences at the Universities of Bonn, Tokyo and Cairo and graduated with a PhD at the Free University Berlin. Her research interests include the politics of the Near and Middle East, East and South East Asia as well as political Islam and Gender Studies.
Citation: “All Things Transregional?” in conversation with… Claudia Derichs in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 19.10.2017, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/8047.