As scholars debate merits
of global and area studies,
Emory professors take note
How does the academy go about studying the world? In the post-war United
States, the globe was chopped up into continents and geopolitical regions,
and the field of area studies was born. But a "smaller" post-Cold
War world is one in which shifting national borders and the many intersections
of commerce, communication and ecology have scholars scrambling to find
new ways to examine countries, regions and peoples. This broader focus suits
"global studies" specialists, who attempt to look at the world
through the prism of a single issue affecting many countries.
But scholars are not only concerned with what they study; how they study
the world has been the subject of much debate as well. These discussions
have been played out in the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education,
at the grant-making Social Science Research Council, the Ford Foundation
and elsewhere. "There are some theories that seek for universal determinants
of human behavior such as the fact that we are all calculating animals,"
explained Ivan Karp, director of the Center for International Studies. "It's
called the rational choice theory, and as far as I can see, it's a dominant
theory in political science these days."
When Robert Bates, president of the comparative-politics section of the
American Political Science Association, made comments about area studies
specialists in the section's newsletter last year, he set off quite a controversy
since political science has always been a cornerstone of area studies programs.
Many political scientists, he wrote, "see area specialists as having
defected from the social sciences into the camp of the humanities [because
of] their commitment to the study of history, languages and culture as well
as their engagement with interpretivist approaches to scholarship."
Bates has since backed away from these views, reports Halle Professor
for Global Learning Thomas Remington. A political scientist himself, Remington
said scholars need to understand theory and method, but they also need to
know well the countries or areas they are studying. "The challenge
to understand both theory and context is the same as it's been for decades.
One needs to know the context of actual places in order to understand the
goals that actors have," he said.
The ensuing discussion has allowed institutions such as Emory to engage
in a bit of creative thinking about the approaches faculty and students
should take to global learning. For Karp it means thinking about the concept
of globalization itself. "Globalization is a disorganized phenomenon;
it's not the product of anyone's intentions," he said. "It also
seems to be out of the reach of human control, which is why everyone's so
focused on it.
"But there's no agreement about what 'global' means," he continued.
"Think of it as an adjective, and then think about what it modifies.
'Global marketplace' might be something they talk about in the business
school. Then think 'global economic system,' 'global environmental crisis'
or 'global culture.'" But global may also mean we have to learn that
in India there are more PhD candidates in English literature than there
are professors of English literature in England itself, Karp added.
"It's a bit of a false distinction to say area vs. global,"
Remington thinks. "All are part of a place and part of the world [where]
common forces are acting on us all." Both Remington and Karp are exploring
these issues in detail through two programs. This semester Remington is
leading a faculty seminar under the auspices of the Halle Institute in which
12 faculty of different disciplines are examining European institutions.
"We are looking at what is going on and shaping issues in Europe in
light of larger world issues," he explained.
Karp, who recently received a Ford Foundation "Crossing Boundaries:
Revitalizing Area Studies" grant (Emory Report, Jan. 20), is
hosting four speakers this semester who'll address topics relating to comparative
industrialization and post-colonial nations. Afterwards, in follow-up sessions,
faculty and students will discuss the topics and readings. "What we're
trying to do is provide a forum for teasing out different problems and issues
so that people can think more clearly about them," he said.
Despite the dispute over the two disciplines, global and area studies
have afforded faculty the opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary scholarship-a
benefit disputed by few in the academy. But Karp sees room for improvement
even there. "At Emory we tend to think of 'interdisciplinary' as something
where we hire one person to do two jobs," he said. But global and area
studies are "interdisciplinary areas in which their very complexity
requires more scholarship. In this case, you need to hire six people to
do one job."
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