Area Studies and the globalised world (27 Feb 07)

Date: 27 February, 2007
Location: British Library Conference Centre, London
Event type: Conference

Programme | Poster | Event report

Past event summary

This international one-day conference was jointly organised by

Eccles Centre for American Studies (British  Library) The Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada Canada UKCASA: UK Council for Area Studies Associations

Keynote speakers

Lord Giddens, London School of Economics

Lord Giddens

Selected bibliography

  • The Consequences of Modernity. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990).
  • The Third Way. The Renewal of Social Democracy. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998).
  • Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives. (London: Profile, 1999).
  • (Edited with Will Hutton) On The Edge. Living with Global Capitalism. (London: Vintage, 2000).
  • Sociology. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001).
  • (Editor) The New Egalitarianism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005).

John Ralston Saul, Essayist and Novelist

John Ralston Saul

John Ralston Saul's lecture is sponsored by the Government of Canada/Gouvernement du Canada.

Selected bibliography

  • Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992).
  • Reflections of a Siamese Twin: Canada at the End of the Twentieth Century (Toronto: Vintage, 1997).
  • On Equilibrium: Six Qualities of the New Humanism (Toronto: Penguin, 2001).
  • The Collapse of Globalism and the Rebirth of Nationalism, Harpers Magazine March 2004
  • The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World (London: Atlantic, 2005).


Programme for 27 February 2007
Time Session
10.00 - 10.30 Registration and coffee
10.30 - 11.15 Europe and globalisation
Keynote speaker: Lord Giddens
London School of Economics
Author of Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives
11.15 - 12.45 Area Studies, globalisation and higher education
Chair: Michael Kelly (Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, University of Southampton)
Panel: Itesh Sachdev (SOAS); Elspeth Jones (Leeds Metropolitan University); David Sadler (Director of Networks - Higher Education Academy)
12.45 - 13.30 Lunch
13.30 - 14.15 Area Studies, globalisation and British Library resources
Matthew Shaw and Dorian Hayes
14.15 - 15.00 The collapse of globalism: the way the world is turning
Keynote speaker: John Ralston Saul
Essayist and Novelist
Author of The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World
15.00 - 15.30 Tea
15.30 - 17.00 Area Studies, globalisation and 21stC diplomacy
Chair: Iwan Morgan (Institute for the Study of the Americas)
Panel: Frank Pieke (University of Oxford), John Dumbrell (Durham University), Yasir Suleiman (University of Edinburgh)



British Library Conference Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB

The Conference Centre has its own entrance from the Piazza.

Event report: Area Studies and the globalised world

by John Canning

The Giddens and Saul contributions were first-class.

- Conference attendee

Over 80 delegates attended this conference organised by The Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, The Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS), the Canadian High Commission and UK Council for Area Studies Association (UKCASA).

Lord Giddens opened the conference with his keynote address 'Europe and Globalisation'. Giddens began by outlining the evolution of the globalisation debate from an 'ivory tower' debate in the 1980s thorough the anti-globalisation movements of the 1990s to the present day in which the debate has been reformulated in terms of global economic and social justice. He also emphasised that communication is the prime driving force behind globalisation, that it is not a western plot and that we are all agents in globalisation (e.g. mobile phones, Starbucks coffee). Globalisation not only pulls power away from the nation-state, but it also creates new needs for local autonomy. Whilst the idea of 'Europe' is ambiguous, it is a mistake to regard Europe today as an outcome simply of evolution. Driven by technological advances Europe changed fundamentally after the events of 1989 and the end of the Cold War, Europe must define itself as 'sovereignty plus'. The European Union can deal with issues such as managing climate change, migration and international crime which will give nation-states more (not less) real sovereignty.

Higher Education Panel

Chair: Michael Kelly, Director of the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies

Itesh Sachdev (School of Oriental and African Studies) emphasised the importance of identity and language in area studies. Despite the decline of languages in UK higher education SOAS has seen an increase in the number of the students studying the 57 languages offered by the school. Languages are also an importance aspect of identity. Sachdev also emphasised the importance of comparative work, interdisciplinarity and indigenous knowledges within area studies.

Elspeth Jones, Internationalisation Dean at Leeds Metropolitan University, contended that the role of the university was to enable all students across the university to be knowledgeable about other parts of world, not only students of area studies. In reference to Tariq Ramadan's view that there is currently too much focus on diversity and difference, she contended that international students play an important role in building a new 'we'. The university is committed to enabling all students to enjoy an international experience.

David Sadler, Director of Networks at the Higher Education Academy, drew on his experience of teaching American Studies at two institutions. He outlined pedagogic and management barriers such as the assessment of multidisciplinary programmes and the challenges of drawing on the resources of more than one department. He emphasised the importance of strong leadership at faculty level to ensure the continuing success of Area Studies programmes.

After lunch, British Library curators Dorian Hayes and Matthew Shaw gave an overview of North American resources held at the British Library. Dr Hayes told the audience about two recent landmark events. In December 2005 the British Library was given Academic Analogue status which entitles the Library to apply for funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The second landmark in April 2006 was the publication of the Library's Content Strategy which uses a subject orientated approach based on Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) categories. He also spoke about collaborative projects including American Borders, Literatures in English and the American Writers in Europe project. Taking a historical perspective, his colleague Matthew Shaw reminded the audience that the Library is not a neutral depository, but its acquisition and collections have over the years, been influenced by colonial, nation-building and political agendas.

John Ralston Saul began his keynote address where Lord Giddens left off challenging Gidden's 'fear' of the rise of regionalism as a threat to the globalisation he so admires. Saul felt that there is an astonishing disconnect between reality and elite discourse at present. There is no dominant world system and we are currently in a vacuum that will proceed onto the new next era. The past 25-50 years was the first era in history in which economics occupied the 'top spot'. The globalist movement is underpinned by a belief that economics in the primary driver behind all human activity. Since the end of the nineteenth century western agriculture has been based on industrial production methods that have led to a surplus resulting in lower consumer prices and less for farmers- therefore it seems in reality there is no 'real' market. Saul went on to argue that nation-states (of all types of political system) are increasingly rejecting globalist approaches. In many respects technology has enabled increased censorship, and walls are being built by technology as often as they are coming down. The new-capitalism has more in common with nineteenth-century horizontal mercantilist structures than with a free market. In Saul's view there has not been a serious debate about these issues since the late nineteenth century. Such a debate is profoundly overdue.

21st century diplomacy

Chair: Iwan Morgan, Institute for the Study of the Americas

Frank Pieke, Director of the British Interuniversity China Centre (BICC), based at the University of Oxford felt a tension between area studies and other disciplines. Whilst the conference seemed to set up a position that area studies are 'better' than disciplines, Pieke feels that it is important that area studies should inform and change disciplines from within and that one should argue for placing area specialists in mainstream disciplines (a point much debated in the questions afterwards). We also need to explore how 'non-Western' countries do their area studies, as the relevant areas and priorities for them are very different. For example, in China 'Taiwan Studies' is very important, as so is the study of internal minorities in China often under a 'civilising' agenda.

John Dumbrell, University of Durham, has recently joined a politics department with a strong commitment to area studies. In the political discourse, the value of area studies is recognised in relation to diplomacy by both the US State Department and the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office with their commitments to get 'beyond the embassy'. However, area studies is vulnerable in UK academia, despite the situation in the Middle East. American Studies has an image problem inasmuch as globalisation is often seen as akin to Americanisation. Anti-Americanism appears to be impacting upon student recruitment to American Studies programmes even though courses in American literature, politics and history remain popular. Lacking language-learning, which would make American Studies perceived as more intellectually challenging (though the case for studying is Spanish is strong), the USA now lacks the exoticism it once did as so many young people have been there before they attend university. Whilst Professor Dumbrell does not view American Studies as a discipline, he has no problem defending it and would not want to give up area studies departments.

Finally, Yasir Suleiman, Professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Edinburgh, opened his talk by stating that his views on globalisation are more like those of Saul than Giddens. For example, although mobile telephones are used throughout the world, people use them very differently. The term 'globalisation' in Arabic does not really equal the English-language use, as the term migrates before the reality materialises. The notion of the 'global village' is problematic - for example our views are shaped by which TV station we watch. In the current political climate, Middle East Studies faces debates about instrumentalisation vis-à-vis foreign policy as well as practical barriers to research. Suleiman questioned the link between globalisation and democracy, as the former is steaming ahead without much evidence of the latter. Globalisation has also had the impact of imposing western stereotypes of Arabs into African countries and Japan. Area studies can try to study how people talk about their own reality. Globalisation is self-defeating and seems to work against people's interests leading to fundamentalism and enclaves.

Feedback from delegates was very positive, with the keynote addresses of Giddens and Saul singled out for particular acclaim. Delegates also expressed interest in issues surrounding the management of area studies departments which arose in the panels and many found it helpful to learn more about the resources held at the British Library.

An audio recording of the conference is available at the British Library Sound Archive