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[ 21 ] roundtable • training the next generation Asian Studies Past, Present, and Future Anand A. Yang Pronouncements about the imminent demise of the field of area studies notwithstanding, area studies is very much alive and well in the United States and elsewhere. In fact, the field’s Asian studies variant is blossoming, particularly in Asia, where research and teaching concentrating on the region as a whole or in part have gained considerable traction in the last two or three decades. Indeed, universities in East and Southeast Asia are investing in the study of their own areas by establishing centers, institutes, and departments, often with the generous support of their governments. In the United States, by contrast, there has been much angst expressed and much ink spilled over the perceived decline of area studies. Many of the field’s proponents believe that they have become marginalized in the academy, their area- and culture-specific concerns overshadowed by the formal and mathematical modeling that has become the stock-in-trade of social science disciplines—particularly economics, and from early on, but also increasingly political science and sociology. Furthermore, the so-called area studies wars that flared in the 1980s and 1990s not only shattered rising expectations about the growth of area studies in the humanities and social sciences but also challenged the field’s founding assumptions about the significance of context-based learning and research. This was a major turnaround from the initial post-Sputnik decades of the 1960s and 1970s, when, for a moment, the field appeared poised to gain considerable standing in a number of disciplines. At many institutions, interests ran high enough that programs and even departments centered on area studies were established. Underwriting this growth were funds that poured in from private foundations and the federal government, the latter taking the form of Title VI appropriations for area and international studies initially authorized by the National Defense Education Act of 1958. Beginning in the 1980s, however, the tide turned against area studies, with intellectual opposition mounting at the same time as funding dried up because key foundations shifted their priorities away from area-based to theme- and problem-based research. To make matters worse, the field has had to confront attacks from within and without: from postcolonial and postmodern critics drawn primarily anand a. yang is Director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and Golub Chair of International Studies at the University of Washington. He can be reached at . [ 22 ] asia policy from the ranks of humanities-related cultural and literary studies fields, which once constituted the core disciplines associated with area studies, and from humanities and social science scholars writing in the wake of the Cold War, who challenge the field’s attachment to that earlier era’s categories and imperatives at a time when global forces are transforming the lives of individuals and societies everywhere. Critics find the field of Asian studies wanting, in other words, because they consider it overly Orientalist, on the one hand, and overly dependent, on the other hand, on rigid American notions of states and regions that are more in accord with that particular country’s strategic imperatives. To some, the very idea of treating Asia, or for that matter its regional divisions of Central, East, South, and Southeast Asia, as analytical units is problematic because they are viewed as fabrications of European colonialism and, subsequently, U.S. imperialism. As the first decade of the 21st century closes out, the field of area studies does not look worse for the wear, as the rest of this discussion will illustrate by using Asian studies as a case in point. In fact, the field is entering a new growth spurt, with the impetus this time around stemming primarily from developments occurring in Asia as well as in the United States. Consequently, research and teaching imperatives are changing, including in the United States, in large part in response to the emergence of Asia as the new center of global economic, political, and socio-cultural gravity. Two manifestations of this new outlook are the greater emphasis placed on highlighting the internal dynamics of change in the area rather than external forces and Asia...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2960
Print ISSN
1559-0968
Pages
pp. 21-25
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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