Transregionality in the history of area studies

Authored by: Steffi Marung

The Routledge Handbook of Transregional Studies

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138718364
eBook ISBN: 9780429438233
Adobe ISBN:


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The history of area studies is itself transregional, and this in two ways. Area studies have, first, produced regions and developed narratives about transregional connections by suggesting not only ‘conceptions of geographical, civilizational, and cultural coherence that rely on some sorts of traits’ (Appadurai 2000: 7) but also by assuming certain relationships between them. From a diachronically and synchronically comparative perspective, the dynamic nature of these regional imaginations becomes visible, into which the United States (US)-American Cold War formation has to be embedded. Appadurai contrasts such trait geographies with new ‘process geographies’, thus temporalizing a differentiation that has been rather influential in the emergence of area studies formations from the start. In contrast, it is argued here that processes have, from early on, been driving the academic conceptualization of world regions. In particular, these have been processes of colonization and decolonization – not only in empires and post-imperial societies such as Great Britain, Germany, and France, but also in societies without overseas or landed colonies, such as Hungary or Czechoslovakia. In these processes, colonial fantasies in the early twentieth century and the effects of decolonization in its second half have provided incentives for the professionalization of area studies research and teaching, as did later efforts to reposition area studies against the background of socialist internationalism (Koscev 2018 [forthcoming]; Křižova 2018 [forthcoming]). In addition, area studies in some academic communities have grown in the context of transregional formations, such as the unification of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, into one larger space of knowledge, in the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union in particular (Krauth and Wolz 1998). Furthermore, there have always existed competing or diverging projects in parallel to area studies in the USA. And while security policy considerations during the Second World War and its aftermath have certainly played a crucial role in the USA (Szanton 2004), both the contribution of European academic emigrants and the observation and discussion of European projects of knowledge production about non-European parts of the world, including its philological and historical focus, have also shaped the American variant (Marung and Naumann 2014). Accordingly, the layout of area studies in France, Germany, or the Soviet Union has produced different spaces (see Chapter 4 by Marung). As area studies have spatialized knowledge in world regions, they co-produced and transformed them.

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