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Reading: Modern Languages and/as Area Studies: Towards a New Humanities or Path to Oblivion?

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Modern Languages and/as Area Studies: Towards a New Humanities or Path to Oblivion?

Author:

Stephen Hutchings

University of Manchester, GB
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Abstract

There is an ambivalence regarding the traditional disciplinary affiliation of Modern Languages, split between Area Studies, with its orientation to the social sciences, and an arts wing aligned with literary and cultural studies. The Area Studies contingent has itself been hampered by its struggle to convince social scientists that linguistic expertise is anything more than a practical tool enabling them to extend their research agendas to non-English speaking environments. My article will argue that the apparent incoherence highlighted by this double tension provides an impulse for Modern Linguists to renew their discipline by forging a more equal partnership with the social sciences and enhancing their significance within the humanities. It focuses on the renewed social scientific interest in spatio-temporal situatedness, contending that language’s critical role in the lives of humans as spatio-temporally embodied beings can transform linguistic expertise from a mere facilitating skill into the intellectual core of a reconceived New Area Studies (NAS). It will demonstrate how, freed from Cold War geopolitics and from its attachment to the Great Power as its primary unit of analysis, NAS rejects the very notion of areas as bounded entities, privileging what ‘flows through’ them (media, artistic forms, images and knowledge, as well as people) over what is ‘in’ them. I will discuss what this means for the future of Modern Languages in the academy, concluding that the discipline’s ability to operate across multiple boundaries in this context gives it the power to reassert itself in the forefront not just of NAS, but of a revitalised humanities more generally.
How to Cite: Hutchings, S., 2020. Modern Languages and/as Area Studies: Towards a New Humanities or Path to Oblivion?. New Area Studies, 1(1), pp.73–99. DOI: http://doi.org/10.37975/NAS.30
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Published on 22 Oct 2020.
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