April 23, 2018 | Elizabeth Walker, Publisher & Madeleine Markey, Managing Editor, Area Studies

The future of Area Studies: raising global voices

Highlights from our inaugural workshop in London

The Area Studies team at Routledge, Taylor & Francis are committed to raising global voices in the canon of published Area Studies research.  We use our global editorial presence, creative editorial development and access initiatives to engage (early-career) scholars based in the global south, including mentoring programmes and practical workshops. We are collaborating in challenging the status quo by partnering with key researcher and institutional communities, to shape a series of Area Studies events focused on raising global voices in the discipline.

In November last year, we held the inaugural workshop at SOAS, University of London. Our event aimed to bring together researchers, academic journal editors, society and institutional partners, to address the challenges and future direction of Area Studies research globally, and provide a forum for discussion of the ‘de-westernisation' of Area Studies as a discipline. As well as this, we wanted to facilitate networking opportunities and inspire and establish tangible outcomes for raising the profile of regional researchers and the impact of their work.


Speaker highlights

Professor Jonathan Rigg, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

  • Dr Rigg began with the “territorial trap”, and the limitations of a regional way of thinking, suggesting that we should not rely on idiosyncratic issues to keep the discipline alive, rather we should “open up” the regions and look instead at flow (for example, of societies) within the region.
  • Area Studies has also often been charged with imperialism, and one way forward from this has been to re-think regions as “sites of theory”.
  • Also contributing to the crisis, are notions of essentialism and indeed trait studies, to which a comparativist approach and a shift from trait to process geographies may offer solutions.

Dr Matthew Phillips, Department of History, University of Aberystwyth

  • Dr Phillips outlined the value of Area Studies as a means by which to communicate with the public, highlighting the invigorating and exciting nature of the interdisciplinary research.


Professor Tunde Zack-Williams, Editor, Review of African Political Economy

  • Professor Zack-Williams outlined the work of the Review of African Political Economy community in showcasing events in Africa to the wider world, and in supporting the next generation of researchers based in Africa.
  • The Ruth First Prize is awarded annually to an African early career scholar residing in Africa.
  • The journal is also convening a series of three workshops in Africa over the course of 2017-2018 to explore Structural Transformations in Africa today: interventions from the Left, taking place in Accra, Ghana, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • The workshops will bring together key speakers from Africa and elsewhere, combined with regional and local scholars and activists, and will be organised around three linked themes: economic strategy, industrialisation and the agrarian question; Africa in a ‘post-crisis’ world, global capitalism and imperialism; and resistance and social movements in Africa.


Elizabeth Walker, Publisher & Madeleine Markey, Managing Editor, Routledge Taylor & Francis

  • The day’s final session focused on representation from authors in the global south, and the role publishers have to play alongside academic institutions.
  • An analysis of InCites data shows that Africa, along with the Middle East, Latin American and Australasia continue to produce a relatively small share of global research output, although Asian output is on a more positive trajectory (although this can be largely attributed to China).
  • The journal portfolios published by Routledge in Asia and Africa, make a hugely valuable contribution towards dialogue between north and south, and we recognise the contribution that can be made to global challenge from uniquely balanced portfolios, spanning multiple disciplines, regions, cultures and languages.
  • Elizabeth shared data focusing on a sample of 24 Asian Studies journals and 18 African Studies journals from the Routledge programme and presented an analysis of the Editorial Board composition of the top ranking journals in the Journal Citation Reports (Area Studies category).
  • While engagement with the journals from the global south is increasing, representation among the author base could be improved, as could representation on the editorial boards. Similarly, the social media conversation around both Asian and African Studies content is dominated by the global north.
  • Publishers do have a role to play, Elizabeth explained: an essential part of raising awareness and making the case for change involves gathering data and tracking representation over time, as well as supporting Editor and Board member ‘career development’ and co-authorship support.

The event was a success in no small measure thanks to the hospitality, commitment and enthusiasm of the team at SOAS, University of London, our keynote presenters, and of course, the twenty energetic participants who so candidly and openly articulated their views on the challenges faced by the discipline.

Browse our recommended pre-reading, to contextualise the workshop and the issues at large:

  • Harry Harootonian, ‘Tracking the Dinosaur: Area Studies in a time of “Globalism”
  • Engseng Ho, ‘Inter-Asian Concepts for Mobile Societies’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 1-22. doi:10.1017/S0021911817000900
  • Peter A. Jackson, ‘Spatialities of Knowledge in the Neoliberal World Academy: Theory, Practice and the 21st Century Legacies of Area Studies’, Cross Roads Asia Working Paper Series
Published: April 23, 2018 | Author: Elizabeth Walker, Publisher & Madeleine Markey, Managing Editor, Area Studies | Category: Front page, News and ideas | Tagged with: