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  • Author: Dirk Hoerder
  • Publication Date: 06-2008
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: German Politics and Society
  • Institution: German Politics and Society Journal
  • Abstract: Once upon a time, German studies seemed to be an easy field to define. Like fairytales, the resulting stories were addressed to a faithful audience—but here, an audience of adults, true believers in the nation and nation state. Today, by contrast, we understand that defining area studies is, in fact, a highly complex task involving overlapping regions and social spaces, and analyses of borderlands, interpenetrations, and métissage, as well as of processual structures and structured processes. Even geographies have become “processual.” The origins of area studies are often traced to the U.S., the hegemon in the Atlantic world's academe, and the emergence of American studies in the 1930s. Nevertheless, something like area studies also emerged in Europe in the late nineteenth century, juxtaposing 1) a country and its colonies; and 2) a country and its neighbors. The former were inferior societies, the latter competitors in world markets and, repeatedly, enemies in war. Area studies—after a preceding period of knowledge acquisition as reflected in early mapmaking— became colonial studies, competitor state studies, enemy state studies—in each case transnational, transterritorial, and transcultural. Unable to deal with the concept of “trans,” i.e., with fuzzy borders and shifting categories and geographies, scholars in each bordered country set their own society, their Self, as the “yardstick.” The Other, the delimited opposite, was meant as a background foil before which their respective own nation was to appear as the most advanced and to which—knowledge and interest are inextricably linked—the profits from worldwide trade and the spoils from colonial acquisitions were naturally due (Folien- or Spiegeltheorie). Since then, motivations for country studies have become more complex but they basically are framed still by bordered territories, “national culture,” national consciousness or identity, nation-state policies, and international relations. Once the ideology of “nation” is abandoned, the blindfold removed so to say, it appears that German-language people may be studied in America or Russia—or Africans, Poles, and Turks in the German-language societies (plural!).
  • Topic: Sovereignty
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, America, Europe, Turkey, Germany