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Area Studies / Cultural Areas 2014

Aires culturelles 2014

12th International Conference of the Institut des Amériques

12ème colloque international de l'Institut des Amériques

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Published on Tuesday, October 21, 2014Tuesday, October 21, 2014 by João Fernandes

Summary

The scientific visions of the contemporary world – from the early 2000s — are in turmoil, because of the collapse of the geo-political, economic and cultural balances that had organized the post-war period (1945-1990) at the global level, along the notion of cultural areas as defined by Fernand Braudel. In France, the recent creation of GIS (Groupements d’Intérêt Scientifiques, or clusters of scientific interest) in geo-cultural areas (Asia, Africa, the Muslim World, Americas) appears as a major attempt toward a redeployment and restructuring of research areas. To bring answers to these central issues, this Conference can be the occasion for an international scientific reflection on three levels: the genesis of cultural area studies; the scientific institutions in the field of cultural areas; the challenges and opportunities for area studies.

Announcement

Area Studies / Cultural Areas : the Discussion

The scientific visions of the contemporary world – from the early 2000s -- are in turmoil, because of the collapse of the geo-political, economic and cultural balances that had organized the post-war period (1945-1990) at the global level, along the notion of cultural areas as defined by Fernand Braudel. Indeed, several poles of excellence – in the Americas or in Europe (Germany, England) have begun to invest this field of reflection with a view to proposing new approaches. Strong with its Braudelian legacy, French and European research has the legitimacy and the capacity to propose and conduct further orientations on the international scene. In France, the recent creation of GIS (Groupements d’Intérêt Scientifiques, or clusters of scientific interest) in geo-cultural areas (Asia, Africa, the Muslim World, Americas) appears as a major attempt toward a redeployment and restructuring of research areas.

In this perspective, a first direction is to deconstruct the concept of "cultural areas ' by wondering whether it takes global dynamics sufficiently into account in today’s world organized as it is around principles of circulation, flow and subjective and collective perceptions, between or within nations caught in globalization. From the variable geometries which result from these logics can emerge new analytical categories such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) which, if they maintain the concepts of territories and geographical spaces, question their relevance, and revisit their essentialist biases. If this re-zoning of the world appears as a major political issue, understanding it and honing sufficiently innovative conceptual tools and methodologies to encompass the phenomenon turns out to be a first-rate scientific challenge.

Recent scientific approaches take into account the encounters, circulations and repositioning of the territories through efficient methodological heuristics: new approaches to the Americas, for example, rely on the interconnections between North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. In this sense, the Institute of the Americas appears as a legitimate scientific player capable of sharing its experience in renewing approaches on the visions of the world, beyond the notion of cultural areas. Beyond that, it is to investigate links between cultural areas and disciplines, avoiding the pitfalls of what have been an oversimplified opposition, both from theoretical and methodological standpoints and in the structuring of academic and research institutions. To what extent can we sustain the relevance of the approaches by cultural areas without sacrificing their specificity in the humanities and social sciences, namely a body of area-anchored knowledge, giving particular importance to linguistic and cultural competence? Furthermore, what place does the study of new spaces of interculturality, between areal zones occupy today? Finally, in terms of the dissemination of knowledge, how can academic curricula evolve to take into account new contexts of professionalization at the global scale, providing effective responses to the collapse of the workforce in some sectors of minority areas?

To bring answers to these central issues, this Conference can be the occasion for an international scientific reflection on three levels: the genesis of cultural area studies; the scientific institutions in the field of cultural areas; the challenges and opportunities for area studies.

1.     The notion of cultural areas and its genesis

This first part aims to throw light on the genesis of the idea of cultural areas, starting form its institutional origins.

It should be borne in mind that the notion of cultural area emerged long before it was taken up by the field of scientific epistemology: each human group (at the local, national, regional, even diasporic level) tends to legitimize itself around a myth or collective narrative which structures a shared identity that distinguishes it from the other. This original ethical dimension of cultural areas is never entirely absent from the notion of cultural area as epistemological category. In France, one should probably go back to the creation of the Ecole des Jeunes Langues Orientales (1669) or even to the cabinets of curiosities to figure out how the will to understand the cultures of the world, from a very centered perspective on European nations emerged. From the Enlightenment, the ambition to disseminate European universalism gradually flowed into diversions, among which the essentialization of cultures has been the most obvious feature. In the twentieth century, Western domination has perpetuated this vision of an order of the world organized around Western universalism. Transformations of the world-order from the early 90s - particularly related to the acceleration of exchanges, to the emergence of new countries with strong potential – make it necessary to reconsider the meaning of the notion of cultural areas.

The phrase cultural areas is itself problematic both in France and abroad. In France, cultural areas are a field of study strongly anchored on disciplines linked to languages, literature, humanities and social sciences (Anthropology, history, geography) with a representation of these disciplines in HSS more or less strong depending on the study areas. Conversely, political science has so far been considered as the core generalist discipline of area studies, while economics has asserted itself as a science detached from any cultural context, given the methodologies and scientific paradigms it relies on.

In a comparative perspective, the terms of area studies in the English-speaking world or regional studien in German are unsatisfactory translating approximations, which is partly due to the fact that these studies are inserted in very different research frameworks: in the United States area studies have from the outset - before the second world war – been designed to serve the strategic interests of the State Department, while in France the educational objectives could represent an equally important issue in the minds of Braudel at the same period. It is also necessary to point out that designations differ much according to disciplines , as terms like regional spaces or regional power tend to hug the limelight in a perspective guided by political science or economics because of the international political and economic agenda, particularly linked to the emerging powers.

How therefore can all of these approaches in the field of cultural areas be articulated without recreating new oppositions that might seem artificial?

2.     The Scientific Institutions in the Field of Cultural Areas

This ambition raises the question of scientific institutions, from two points of view -- research or the academic programs in languages and civilizations. To what extent does the present structuring of cultural area studies allows an adequate understanding of the political, economic and cultural logics at play in the current context of globalization?

The recent upheavals in world order have resulted in a decompartmentalization of the historical rifts at the political level (East vs. West), at the economic level (North vs. South) and at the cultural level (East vs. West), imposing new readings of certain regions of the world. For instance, where is Turkey to be placed?  What about the countries of what was considered to be 'Eastern Europe', now largely referred to as constituting a median Europe? Where to situate North Africa? At the north of Africa or West of the Muslim world (as Maghreb)?

These questions - whose political relevance can be illustrated by the recent events concerning the Ukraine - also resonate in the organization of French research as well as in other nations: how to foster a structuring of research - i.e. the perimeter of the research centers in particular – adequately to account for the political, cultural and economic realities through a relevant regionalization?

If the concern so far has been the visions of the world by Western scientific institutions, in the context of globalization and the shifting geopolitical, economic and cultural balances, it is also important to consider the scientific visions of the order of the world within the research institutions of the areas studied. How are non-western scientific institutions considering the issue of cultural areas, and more generally the order of the world? Finally, what may and should be the practical impact on education systems in the field of the cultural areas, and more generally for the knowledge of the cultures of the world?

3.     Challenges and Perspectives

All of these questions lead us to seize the challenges and opportunities related to the urgent need to revisit the concept at the theoretical level. We need to consider whether this question is universal, wondering to what extent investigation on/in the cultural areas allows to open new venues of research without falling into the trap of cultural relativism; from a critical perspective, we need to question to what extent usually mobilized approaches - for instance around postcolonialism - are likely to account for new readings of cultural areas. At the methodological level, we need to question, even exceed the classical oppositions between disciplines versus area studies which have fueled the debate so far in the critical discourse on cultural areas. Finally, on the conceptual level, the ambition of this symposium is to come up with a potent and original idea or concept to spearhead future directions in research.

Places

  • Auditorium Marie Curie - 3, rue Michel-Ange
    Paris, France (75016)

Date(s)

  • Wednesday, November 05, 2014Wednesday, November 05, 2014
  • Thursday, November 06, 2014Thursday, November 06, 2014
  • Friday, November 07, 2014Friday, November 07, 2014

Keywords

  • aires culturelles, GIS, asie, amériques, afrique, asie, mondes musulmans, area studies

Contact(s)

  • Jacques Pothier
    courriel : jacques [dot] pothier [at] uvsq [dot] fr

Information source

  • Jacques Pothier
    courriel : jacques [dot] pothier [at] uvsq [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Area Studies / Cultural Areas 2014 », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, October 21, 2014Tuesday, October 21, 2014, https://calenda.org/302650

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