A disciplinary perspective on interdisciplinary research: Area studies
21 March 2019
In a post-Brexit 'Global Britain', a deep knowledge and understanding of other countries, regions and peoples of the world will attain heightened levels of strategic importance for all sectors of the UK economy and all parts of society. The health and vitality of interdisciplinary research in Area Studies will be essential to the UK’s success in confronting rapidly evolving global challenges after Brexit.
Interdisciplinarity has taken on increased importance for REF 2021. With its focus on understanding a country or region, Area Studies draws on relevant disciplines and methodologies from both the humanities and social sciences for understanding the country, region or issue under study. As such, it is by its very nature both multi- and inter- disciplinary and encouraging of trans- disciplinary initiatives that explore creative ways of working across disciplinary boundaries. The world is made up of a mosaic of peoples and communities, each characterised by a complex relationship to local milieu and diverse – and changing – links to regional and global processes. Area Studies, with its wide embrace of disciplinary specialisms in addition to multi-and inter-disciplinary approaches, is well placed to explore such diversity.
Interdisciplinary area studies thus includes, but is not limited to, political, social, anthropological and historical studies; language studies (including translation and discourse analysis); literature, culture and thought; film and media studies; visual cultures; postcolonial studies; indigeneity; and thematic work (e.g. gender, migration studies).
Area Studies promotes innovative approaches to contemporary and historical foci. Traditionally, Area Studies has explored the legacies of empire, the Cold War, the ‘nation state’, the ‘great powers’ and ‘centre-periphery’ relations. While continuing to explore these themes, Area Studies also seeks to go beyond such traditional themes and to reconceptualise what we mean by ‘area’ in light of globalisation trends. Multi- and inter- disciplinary work, as well as innovative, 'risk-taking' trans-disciplinary work, are central to this new agenda.
Interdisciplinary area studies facilitates and encourages diverse epistemologies, methods, and methodologies, with a particular focus on women, minority groups, former colonized societies, indigenous people and historically oppressed communities. It situates research into, and from the perspective of, these groups within a larger historical, cultural, and global context with case studies from around the globe.
Area Studies colleagues typically possess extensive trans-disciplinary networks in the countries and regions in which they work and collaborate with local people, institutions and organisations. Engagement with non-academic communities can take many forms and may incorporate local-level activism through to national-level policy advocacy. The impact agenda in Area Studies is thus by its very nature interdisciplinary and often has an international focus, which presents particular challenges that the Area Studies sub-panel is particularly well-placed to appreciate.