What is regional, international, and global?

Universities around the United States are rethinking area studies, international studies, and global studies, pondering what each adds to our understanding of the world.

Some of those institutions were represented at a workshop at Indiana University recently.

The Institute for Curriculum and Campus Internationalization takes place each summer in Bloomington. Attendees come from all over the country to discuss ways of creating meaningful international engagement on their campuses.

The 2015 institute just wrapped up.

A roundtable titled ‘Area Studies? International Studies? Global Studies’ featured four IU-Bloomington scholars, including Framing Fellow Stephanie DeBoer, discussing the ways they think about each of these disciplines.

For all of them, area studies suggests a depth of study and knowledge, while international and global studies provide opportunities for the cultivation and creation of a breadth of knowledge — international studies focused on the creation of a breadth of understanding between states and state-like actors; global studies more focused on globally circulating phenomena.

Framing Fellow DeBoer, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Culture, said she’s often less concerned with the disciplinary lens through which she approaches a subject than she is with the question she’s exploring in her work.

What DeBoer is frequently exploring are the “scales of power, practice, and meaning that are at play” in particular sites.

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Glass sphere on a Dutch beach. Image via Ramon Harkema. (Flickr Creative Commons.)

“Scale becomes a central question,” she says for anyone conducting research on global issues. DeBoer pointed out to the audience that the global and the local are rarely inseparable, but are working in relation to one another, shaping intense sites of struggle over meaning.

DeBoer said the “grounded global studies” approach the Framing Fellows have been developing has been useful to her as she pursues her research and as she tussles with the intersections of local and global meaning in her sites of study.

Jessica Steinberg, assistant professor of International Studies, told the audience that “Globalization has made lines on the map less determined.”

While national boundaries are still important, researchers are becoming increasingly interested in what happens in the “spaces between lines on the map.” Her research centers on natural resource extraction and the ways national sovereignty is challenged by the multinational corporations who are doing the extracting.

“Companies behave differently in different nations when extracting the same resources,” she said. There is a “transnational cascade of norms” for behavior and tracing those norms, their creation, their evolution, and their dissemination requires an individual to have both deep knowledge of a place but also broad knowledge of how the norms are circulating.

Keera Allendorf reminded the audience that “You always have to put your place in the context of the rest of the world”

Allendorf, an assistant professor in Sociology and International Studies, is a demographer who studies families, gender, and health in India and Nepal. She said researchers have to be constantly considering where their work fits into the bigger picture.

“You have to go after both breadth and depth,” she said. Having broad knowledge of a subject can not only help a researcher better contextualize their work, but also help them make a case for why their findings are so interesting.

Interesting, but not unique pointed out associate professor of Central Eurasian Studies Gardner Bovingdon.

There are no unique experiences Bovingdon suggested, there are, however, interesting contexts for why some things look one way in one place and why they look another way someplace else.

The work of a scholar conducting research in the wider world is to explore where concepts live and then trace how they become lodged in particular spaces or locales Bovingdon said. It’s those locales and how they mold or transform the concept that make it interesting.

One of the strengths of an international studies or a global studies approach is that it “Allows us to take our familiar and make it strange,” Bovingdon said.

Academia needs the different understandings of the world area studies, international studies, and global studies help create all four speakers said. Area studies, with its focus on not only deep cultural knowledge but also deep language study, is vital for American researchers seeking to go abroad. But a researcher must be able to place that deep knowledge within a broader geopolitical context.

Several audience members asked the speakers how they might help students in the United States see the importance of gaining global understanding. It can often be difficult, they seemed to suggest, to get students to break out of their familiar spaces and places.

“Build bridges via the familiar to some very distant place,” Bovingdon said. “There is no non-global experience anymore.”

Allendorf brought up the idea of exploring what home means for students in the US and then zooming out and helping those same students understand what home might mean in different national contexts and then in a transnational context.

For DeBoer it boiled down to the idea of responsibility.

“Where is the question of responsibility in all this?” she asked the audience. “What is our responsibility in engaging with global and international questions?”

Attendees were left pondering this question: What is our responsibility to our students and to our campuses?

The Institute for Curriculum and Campus Internationalization is organized by the Center for the Study of Global Change, which is part of the Indiana University’s School of Global & International Studies.

You can follow us on Twitter: @FramingGlobal.