Area studies, regionalwissenschaften , aires culturelles

The respatialization of area studies from a bird’s-eye view

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 spatialization of knowledge about the world into geographically and epistemologically defined compartments, around which academic institutions, research agendas, and curricula are organized, has been part of the professionalization of academic communities in Europe and the USA since the nineteenth century. The humanities and the later emerging social sciences – from history, geography, and ethnology, to philological and cultural studies, to political science and sociology – have implicitly or explicitly always been tied to ‘trait geographies’ (Appadurai 2000). These geographies have been built from different spatial formats, and they could be more or less territorialized, privileging different scales of scientific enquiry: while, for example, historiography, geography, or sociology co-produced the modern European nation-state, anthropology either addressed the non-territorial (vulgo: non-European) local level or pursued its integration into a territorial scalar logic. ‘Cultural traits’ could be either ascribed to the national compartment or to the regional. These projects, in turn, were embedded in specific ‘metageographies’, as a ‘set of spatial structures through which people gain their knowledge of the world: the often unconscious frameworks that organize studies of history, sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, or even natural history’ (Lewis and Wigen 1997: 9; also see Chapter 16 by Ben-Nun). This metageography has been far from stable since the end of the nineteenth century; however, in the case of what is in contemporary English subsumed under ‘area studies’, it has been less unconscious and rather explicitly conceptualized and institutionalized (Lockman 2004).

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