The importance of Area Studies: why does it matter?

The Director of SOAS University of London, Valerie Amos, spoke at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) on the subject of Why Does Area Studies Matter?

Below is an excerpt from Valerie’s speech:

“Little did I know that the backdrop to this conference would be last week’s vote that will take Britain out of the EU, a vote that has sent shockwaves through all parts of British society, and around the world. So this conference is timely because there has never been a more important time to think about the contribution that Area Studies researchers and Area Studies institutions like SOAS can make to the debate about Britain’s relationship with its European neighbours and the rest of the world.

“Like the majority of university vice chancellors, I was vigorous and robust in my support for Britain’s continued membership of the EU, and its benefits for UK Higher Education and for our staff and students who come from the UK, Europe and other parts of the world.

“Britain’s vote to leave the EU poses a challenge to the whole international system. SOAS’s research and teaching is at the core of thinking about what a future world will look like, how to build bridges across communities and cultures, and how to reverse the current tide towards separatism. Our work is even more important now.

“We know that Brexit will affect the British and potentially the global economy – indeed, with sterling’s fall, it already has. We know too that it will affect higher education in the UK, and not in a positive way. And we are already seeing its negative impact on our values of diversity and inclusion. It feels as if this is not a good time to be one of Britain’s minority ethnic communities. What we don’t yet know is what effect it will have on European and indeed global collaboration and understanding.

“Yet this is increasingly what universities– and especially in the field of Area Studies – are all about.

We have an opportunity – but also a duty – to ensure the next generation continues to look beyond borders and embraces collaboration and mutual understanding.

“That is the only way to tackle the most complex problems of our time – whether that’s climate change, inequality, immigration or conflict.”

Area Studies at SOAS

Area Studies remains at the heart of SOAS academic life. In a world that is both increasingly interconnected but also increasingly fragmented, SOAS is distinctively positioned to analyse, understand and explain. With its regional focus on academic subjects in the Arts and Humanities, Languages and Cultures, and Law and Social Sciences, SOAS has the largest concentration in Europe of academic staff focused on Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The MA South Asian Area Studies provides a wide-ranging interdisciplinary analysis of the South Asian countries – India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka – from the perspective of Politics, Economics, Anthropology, Law and History.

The BA South Asian Studies is designed to allow language pathways in Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, Sanskrit and Urdu.

Similarly, the BA South East Asian Studies strikes an exciting balance between the study of a South East Asian language – Burmese, Indonesian, Thai or Vietnamese – and the cultures of the region.

The four-year options of both degrees allow students to undertake a year abroad, in order to gain a more focused and in-depth study of their country of specialisation.

The MA Pacific Asian Studies degree gives students the opportunity to study one of the most diverse and important regions of the world. Pacific Asia can be defined in various ways, but at SOAS it involves the study of China, Japan, Korea and the ASEAN nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines). The degree brings together the large number of modules on Pacific Asia currently on offer in SOAS Masters programmes, and gives students the chance to gain knowledge of aspects of Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies and Korean Studies.

As part of its centenary year, SOAS has identified five key research themes. Each represents an important distinctive area of the School’s work, but each is linked by a commitment to Area Studies. The five themes are Global Voices; Sharing a Small Planet; Heritage of Humanity; Global Diplomacy and Governance; and Global Interactions.


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