Contextualizing the Contextualizers: How the Area Studies Controversy is Different in Different Places

Jan Busse, Morten Valbjørn, Asel Doolotkeldieva, Stefanie Ortmann, Karen Smith, Seteney Shami, Sergio Costa, Irene Weipert-Fenner, Jonas Wolff, Saskia Schäfer, Norma Osterberg-Kaufmann

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As part of recent years' efforts at reaching a more context- and diversity-sensitive study of international relations, the nexus between fields of IR and Area Studies (AS) has received a renewed attention. While AS is usually presented as the "contextualizer"of the disciplines, this forum reverses the perspective by suggesting that an awareness of both diversity and context is also relevant when it comes to understanding the evolution of the field of AS and its relations to IR. In this forum, a selection of scholars with diverse backgrounds (US, Middle East, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Central Asia), different (inter)disciplinary trainings and regional orientations examines how various fields of AS and its relations to the disciplines vary, and what follows from a stronger attention to such kind of diversity. By contextualizing the contextualizers, the forum brings attention to how a context-sensitive field can also suffer from its own provincialism. While the US-centric narrative about AS might have been almost "hegemonic,"at closer inspection, it turns out that AS in different (sub)disciplinary and geographical settings have evolved differently, and in some places the so-called Area Studies controversy (ASC) has been almost absent. A broadening of the perspective also reveals how the challenges to a successful cross-fertilization are not limited to those outlined in the "classic"ASC, but the forum does simultaneously offer encouraging lessons on how dialogues between area specialists and discipline-oriented scholars can help to overcome epistemological, theoretical, or methodological blind spots. Rather than presenting the IR/AS nexus as a panacea per se, the aim of the forum is therefore to invite to a broader and more self-reflective discussion on some of the opportunities as well as challenges associated with this strategy for making the study of international relations more context-sensitive and attentive to different forms of diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberviad056
JournalInternational Studies Review
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • Area Studies
  • Area Studies Controversy
  • hierarchies of knowledge production


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