Located just north of Paris in Aubervilliers, the Campus Condorcet is a new hub for social sciences and the humanities. Organized around a major library, it brings together eleven institutions of higher education and research with about 100 of their research units. It is also unique for gathering researchers working on the whole world from a wide array of epistemological and disciplinary perspectives. Area and global studies are among the research fields best suited to strengthening existing collaborations within the Campus and fostering renewed international exchange with colleagues from all continents and disciplines.
In our view, area studies should not just refer to research on non-European societies. We consider Europe as a “cultural area” in its own right, or at least as a historically constructed region. We also believe that the issue of how the world –both in its unity and diversity– should be investigated cannot be the exclusive domain of research of those colleagues who identify themselves with the field of area studies, but also regards scholars who exclusively define their work in terms of one or more disciplines. Research is always doubly situated: on the one hand, in the contexts where it is produced, the academic circles where it circulates and the socio-political arenas where it conveys meaning; on the other hand, it is also situated in relation to the empirical objects studied and the investigations conducted, although they might not fall within the scope of the so-called area studies approach (i.e. grounded in thick contextualization).
Replacing or combining with other paradigms presiding over the holistic scientific understanding of the world (universal histories, orientalism or colonial ethnology), area studies emerged after the Second World War, albeit at different times in North America, Europe, and the rest of the world. Over the last three decades, this field has undergone major transformations following the rise of global studies in the wake of the globalization of economic and financial markets as well as the postcolonial critique, the internationalization of research encouraged by the boom in air traffic and the internet, and the emergence of important new centers of knowledge production in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. All these developments have challenged the very foundations of area studies. These challenges remain and have been accentuated by new, urgent ones. The Covid pandemic, as well as conflicts and wars in Ethiopia, Mali, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen –unfortunately, a far from exhaustive list– have undermined the possibility of conducting fieldwork and accessing archives. These crises have underlined the precarious nature of some area-based fields of specialization. Hence, it is a pressing and crucial matter to reconsider the issues at stake in and the conceptual foundations of area studies.
Instead of ensconcing ourselves in our own epistemological traditions, we propose to reflect on how the various disciplines of the humanities and social sciences –wherever in the world they are produced and to whichever epistemological legacies they belong– study, both independently and collectively, the world as a whole and in its diversity, not just its non-European societies. Beyond the individual researchers’ positioning in relation to their research objects and areas of specialization and the circulation between academic circles, we must also take account of the different disciplinary histories and the divergent ways they have sought to apprehend the world.
By exploring the various ways the humanities and social sciences in different academic settings have approached the world, this conference aims to intervene in the ongoing debates on the parameters and paradigms of area studies and the disciplines alike. While bolstering the scientific construction of Campus Condorcet from below, it intends to contribute to building a plural and multi-situated knowledge of the world.