The Crossroads Perspective: a fundament for Crossroads Studies?

Epifania Amoo Adare & Claus Bech Hansen

The 1st phase of the Crossroads Asia Competence Network project focused on the identification of theoretical and methodological limitations related to the traditional Area Studies discipline. Leaning on Norbert Elias' figuration concept, the 1st phase 'followed the figuration' which allowed us to identify real and imagined spaces and figurations that disrupt the conventional borders of Area Studies. Drawing on these results, the 2nd phase aims to contribute further to the conceptualization of 'the social' and 'the spatial' focusing on (social) figurations, consequences of mobility and/or immobility, (de)bordering and boundary processes, as well as negotiation(s) of social and physical spaces (spatialities) by various social actors. Jessop, Brenner and Jones (2008) identified four distinct spatial lexicons that have been developed by social scientists over the last thirty years: territory, place, scale, and network. These concepts are associated with specific spatial turns and, although they problematise different issues, they should actually be seen as closely intertwined theoretically and empirically. The authors (Jessop, Brenner and Jones 2008) argue for analyzing the totality of socio-spatial organisation that all four dimensions should put into play, albeit not necessarily all at once.

The grant proposal for the 2nd phase furthermore seeks to continuously reflect on knowledge production (epistemology) and the positionality of researcher(s) as part of the process to develop the theoretical and methodological foundation of the ‘Crossroads Perspective’.

The work package 7 is designed as a project that synthesizes prior research results at the level of concepts and methods, while simultaneously contributing with epistemological considerations to Area Studies and related disciplines. As part of this process, the ‘Crossroads Perspective’ will be illuminated and the prospects of developing a research programme ‘Crossroads Studies’ (the idea of figuratively constructed relational spatialities in combination with ‘mobile’ methodological tools and systematic reflection as an element of the research process) will be investigated with reference to German and international debates on Area Studies (in both research and teaching).

The conceptual and methodological synthesis of the ‘Crossroads Perspective’ shows the basic dilemma of Area Studies and thus aims to answer to the questions: which spaces are constructed? How are they constructed and what constitutes them? And, lastly, in which way do they become relevant for research? Initial work has produced key findings relating to how lasting social interaction constitutes and shapes spaces as well as to the role of physical, social and cognitive mobilities and processes in negotiating the boundaries of these spaces. Spatial terms and concepts that have been prominent in Crossroads Asia research, among them (im)mobility, figurations, positionality, reconfigurations, (im)mobilization etc. must, however, be systematically analyzed as a means to further develop the preliminary theories and concepts during the work on the working packages of the 2nd phase (Merton 1949, Houben 2013). This work of synthesis will culminate in the elaboration of a conceptual framework on figurative construction of spaces.

On the methodological level the approach ‘follow the figuration’ // ‘follow the figurations of social actors’ will support the operationalization in the research process. Figurations are seen as enabling a systematic reflection on the research processes entailed in the working packages with reference to power structures, positionality and research ethics. Drawing on research from both funding phases, we intend to advance the ‘Crossroads Perspective’, as one with the capacity to complement and extend Area Studies and specialist disciplines due to its foundation on this triad of conceptual framework, methodological approach and epistemological self-reassurance.

The view is that the consolidation of Crossroads Asia will take place through the development of the ‘Crossroads Perspective’ as a research paradigm for modern Area Studies research that can further be developed, independently, by those who draw on it for research, but just as importantly also for teaching purposes. In order to facilitate the latter process, work package 7 will also contain the develoment of a curriculum framework (i.e., of core competencies, relevant subject content and teaching pedagogy), which highlights the synthesis of Crossroads Asia research at the level of concepts, methodology and reflexive research praxis. The framework will act as an organized plan or set of standards that define the learning outcomes to be gleaned from an international masters module of study, for example. The framework, in its design, intends to highlight key concepts from the ‘Crossroads Perspective’, especially those providing an understanding of curriculum as a spatial text; perhaps then also making a contribution to the various curriculum discourses (Pinar et al, 1996). More specifically, key content within the framework will reflect the growing recognition of the utility of the “spatial turn” for enhancing understandings of contemporary societies, as well as for informing instructional practice, e.g., through critical reflections of classrooms as “disciplinary” (Foucault 1975/1995) social constructions of space (Lefebvre 1974/1991), with a material-semiotic historicity that has implications for current co-constructions of educational-safe-spaces (Cruz 2013) from and within which students can be enabled to rethink and transgress the knowledge boundaries of Area Studies and the disciplines.

The curriculum framework for the ‘Crossroads Studies’ program will also emphasize the importance of critical pedagogy (Freire 1970/1996, 1973, 1998) in any teaching practice that intends to enable a rethinking of the disciplines and Area Studies. Critical pedagogy is designed to serve the purpose of both empowering educators and “teaching for empowerment”; in that: 1) It asks what is the relationship between what educators do in the classroom and efforts to build a better society. 2) It encourages educators to seek connections that would link their personal brand of pedagogy to wider social processes, structures, and issues. 3) It provides educators with the critical skills, conceptual means, and moral imperatives to analyze critically the goals of schooling (McLaren, 2007). Fobes & Kaufman (2008) provide a well-needed discussion on the challenges encountered, when trying to do critical pedagogy in the graduate-level sociology classroom. They also, however, suggest potential solutions for the issues they raise. Beyond classroom dynamics, critical pedagogy seeks to be a pedagogical tool and form of critical praxis for addressing concerns about the commodification of knowledge within contemporary university systems (Cowden & Singh, 2013). Ultimately, it involves a strong agenda for change, both within education and throughout society (McArthur, 2010).

To set an example for how gaps between research and teaching can be bridged, the University of Bonn plans to set up an international master module in ‘Crossroads Studies’ at the Bonn Asia Center. The curriculum framework would form the pedagogical basis for the establishment of this master module that will be focused on student-centered learning, as well as constructivism (Dewey, 1938/1997) as an adhered to theory of knowledge. It is intended that the module will also serve as an interface between established subject-specific disciplines (geography, sociology, political science) and existing Area Studies courses (Oriental and Asia studies, South East Asia studies, Islamic studies); thus, bringing together lecturers from the two fields to teach the prototype ‘Crossroads Studies’ master course in modern Area Studies to the next generation of scholars. This is with the ultimate aim of shaping less hegemonic academic knowledge structures, while establishing successful long-term cooperations through the educating of specialists who can collaborate sensitively across diverse academic enclaves, and also with non-Western partners, on matters of research, politics, economics and development.

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