I am pleased and honored by the invitation to comment on the mission statement in the relaunching of this well- established and important journal.
The first aspect I note is that CSSAAME was initiated in 1981 and relaunched in 2013. In 1981 the world was involved in the Cold War, and area studies were at their height. In 1982 Carl Pletsch published his classic article “The Three Worlds, or the Division of Social Scientific Labor, circa 1950 – 1975,” which outlined the parallels and complicities among political, economic, and scholarly- epistemic management. At the time, as Pletsch clearly mapped, the “division of scientific labor” was grounded on the First World, which means that the First World was not simply the place where knowledge was located. More important, because knowledge was located and managed in the First World (basically Germany, England, France, and the United States — and basically English, French, and German languages of scholarship), the division of the planet into three worlds was possible. The division of the world and the division of scholarship was not decided in the Second and Third Worlds; moreover, the Second and Third Worlds were not consulted. Despite its being issued from the very heart of where democracy was preached and promoted, the division of social scientific labor was straightforwardly undemocratic.
CSSAAME’s mission statement underlines the drastic changes in the world order and in the spheres of scholarship from 1981 to 2013: “Region as source of theory as well as of data has been repeatedly demonstrated during this period by bravura scholarship.” The division of scientific labor during the Cold War emphasizes the old colonial epistemic mentality according to which Indians have wisdom and White Man knowledge; Africans have experience and Europeans philosophy; the Third World has cultures and the First World social sciences. While this set of beliefs were just that, a set of imperial beliefs successful in convincing many inside the First World and beyond, its consequences were indeed devastating. They were a strong epistemic support for the idea that “people without history” were also underdeveloped. Epistemic, political, and economic underdevelopment in the Third World consolidated the global leadership of the United States, which was grounded in the 450 years in which Europe proclaimed and consolidated its location at the center of the world and the present of universal time, as G. W. F. Hegel told the story in his celebrated lessons in universal history.
The task confronting CSSAAME is timely, exiting, and promising. There is indeed a magnificent opportunity to turn the tables and contribute to the epistemic global disorder and reordering. Today, the present and the future in all spheres of life are of paramount concern, and above all in the politico- economic spheres where states and corporations have the upper hand in making decisions that affect all7 billion people on the planet and the life of the planet itself. A conversation on “convergence” is already underway. What is most interesting is that the call for convergence is no longer coming from the “ex–First World” but from the “emerging” economies of the “ex–Third World.” The United States and the imperial core of Europe (France, Germany, and the UK) are not interested in convergence but in maintaining Western leadership in knowledge, politics, economy, and culture. This desire can no longer be obtained. The drastic change from 1981 to 2013 is that the core of the so- called West can no longer control the colonial matrix of power that was built in the process of building the idea of Western civilization and expanding it all over the planet. The call for politico- economic convergence that is coming from the ex–Third World (BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa], Singapore, Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia) shall go hand in hand with a call for epistemic and scholarly convergence. That is, knowledge is no longer controlled by the First World (in spite of the fact that families in Hong Kong and China, in Brazil and Indonesia, in South Africa and Russia are still dreaming of sending their children to Harvard or Yale).
A second point made in the mission statement is extremely relevant: “The bounded areas created by US federal agencies that acted as silos for scholarship for a generation have given way to unfamiliar and exciting transregions, where hitherto unknown forms of economic interaction, religious faith, literary culture, and the like are being discovered. The very weakening of competence in historical languages during these decades and the new and disheartening pressures being placed upon philology have opened the door to theories of philological renewal and a reinvigoration of deep historical scholarship.” Indeed, regions are not objects of study or mines from which to extract “cultural resources” to be processed in the industrial epistemic centers of Western Europe and the United States. Instead, regions are in themselves fountains of knowledge that, disavowed for a long period of time, are not only cutting their chains from imperial knowledge but also, and mainly, necessary for the future of the planet and humanity. Take, for instance, the ability of so- called indigenous knowledge to redress the irrationality that underlines all theories of development and economic growth that disregard environmental warnings and, more dangerously, defend principles of knowledge that are sustaining today’s economic, political, and psychological crisis in the West. I am not advocating for accepting everything that is non- Western. I am advocating ending the totalitarian defense of epistemic universalism that, today, is not founded in Aymara or Bantu philosophy but in Greek philosophy, Roman philology and rhetoric, and European enlightenment. Better yet, every known civilization is built in its own sense of the universal, but there is no reason to universalize a single civilization. Global futures could not be sustained on the sole pillar of Greco- Roman tradition and European vernacular knowledge.
In this regard, CSSAAME has an enormous contribution to make in building global futures. The question remains: How could a journal based in the United States “decenter” itself? That is, what are the means by which a scholarly journal with its office at Columbia University could at the same time, and through a special issue, be a journal based in India, Indonesia, Singapore, China, South Africa, the Maghreb, or Central Asia? Can CSSAAME transcend and transgress scholarly restrictions and publish essays and statements that, rather than following scholarly norms, are made with the force and the demands of the public sphere? One of the features of the present time is not only that area studies is out of place but also that normative scholarship as a secure and objective form of knowledge is suspect. Could knowledge liberated from the chains of area studies and from their corresponding division of scientific labor be decentered — and decenter itself in the process of decentering — if it is not willing to question the rules of scholarship that help maintain control in Western institutions, beliefs, and principles of knowledge? How would CSSAAME be in dialogue with, for example, the project of “Decolonising Our Universities” being advanced in Penang, Malaysia? Can this journal open its doors to the Ecuadorian project of building Yachay, The City of Knowledge (modeled on the Indigenous University Amawtay Wasi and centered in five areas of technology, communication, and renewable energy) with economic support from the Korean government, or shall Ecuador not be considered because it doesn’t belong to the areas contemplated by CSSAAME?
There is one final and important issue that I would like to address: comparison and connectivity. “Connectivity” seems to me the way to go: the way, that is, the method. The editors note in the mission statement that “the journal is committed to publishing original research in such areas as well as critical reflection on major debates; comparative or connective scholarship, especially where comparison or connection is itself a subject for theorization; and studies of particular regions where these contribute to larger arguments.” Most of these seem to me relevant for the future: con- nectivity, critical reflections on major debates “in the areas,” and the ways in which regions are globally connected and thus demand “larger arguments.” As for comparison, I will make a note of caution.
Comparison is minimally a triangular business. There are two entities (processes, events, texts, signs, cities, stories, etc.) to be compared, plus the subject who performs the comparison. When someone buys a car, for example, that person goes through a lengthy comparison of two or more options before making the final decision. All living organisms, plants, and animals need to compare what among all the options of the environment is convenient to their survival — comparing is knowing and knowing is living. Comparison in this regard is a field of investigation into the neurology of cognition. What is of interest here is when and where such a basic foundation of life and sur- vival was conceptualized as “comparison” and systematized as a method in the natural and human sciences. Although living organisms, and not just human beings, “compare” to survive, a particular species of living organisms that in the vocabulary of Western languages has been rendered as “human” or “human beings” invented comparative methods.
Comparative methodology was invented in nineteenth- century Europe, and there was obviously some need for it. Two purposes come to mind. The first was to systematize what had been a European concern since the sixteenth century: when Christians debated the “humanity” of New • 33:3 • World Indians, they invented “comparative ethnology.” In that genealogy of thought, comparative ethnology in the sixteenth century mutated into Orientalism in the eighteenth century, when Spaniards were no longer facing the Indians, but the French, German, and British were facing China, India, and what is today the Middle East. The same logic, the logic of the coloniality of knowledge, was reproduced. Only the contents and the imperial control of the enunciation have changed. The other need for comparative methodology was internal to Europe: after the Treaty of Westphalia, Europeans felt the need to unify under differences while at the same time establishing differences between the heart of Europe and the South. Comparative methodology contributed to that goal. In the first case, it served to define Europe’s external others: Indians and Orientals. In the second case, it defined Europe’s internal others: the south of Europe, the Catholic and Latin countries. When the methodology migrated to the social sciences, it helped to consolidate the “epistemology of the zero point” and Western epistemology and, consequently, to consolidate the control of knowledge. Area studies took advantage of such a move. The very title of this journal witnessed the complicity between comparison and the distribution of scientific labor that, I am sure, CSSAAME is committed to overcoming.
Connectivity and epistemic convergence seem to be ways to delink from the legacy of area studies, to turn the tables and focus on the enunciation rather than on the enunciated. If the enunciation remains within the boundaries of Western scholarship, and Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean provide the cultural resources to be processed by Western social sciences and the humanities (independently of the fact that processing information is carried on in New York, Singapore, or Johannesburg), then the possibilities of delinking from area studies remain limited. The challenge would be, as I suggested above, that the journal be the material carrier of an itinerant enunciation. If “regions are sources of theory,” then let the regions be responsible for using the journal to articulate their views and needs rather than mediating the views and needs of Western scholarship.
“Decolonising Our Universities.” Official Portal, Universiti Sains Malaysia. Last updated 13 June 2013. www.usm.my/index.php/en/about- usm/making-a-difference/decolonising-our-universities.html.
Pletsch, Carl. “The Three Worlds, or the Division of Social Scientific Labor, circa 1950 – 1975.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 23 (1981): 565 – 90.
© 2013 by Duke University Press