Redesigning Area Studies
Area studies are going through a period of reform. Facing globalization, Asian studies scholars, among others, have promulgated new theoretical and methodological approaches (e.g. Barmé 2005, Guiheux 2010, Lie 2012, Davis 2015, Zimmermann & Sartoretti 2012, Zimmermann 2015). In Sinology and within China specifically, as the country is driven by a fast economic development, institutions attached to the Ministry of Education such as Chinese universities or the Confucius institutes network are also increasingly involved in new academic activities under the label of “New Sinology” 新汉学.
If the scholars mentioned above, and the developments initiated by institutions in China, have different points of view and different agendas, we believe that the crux of the matter lies in the fact that area studies today are challenged by the world-wide development of information and communication technology. In order to contribute to this debate and to the academic activities linked to it, the Institut Confucius de l'Université de Genève has initiated a series of projects focused on the study of everyday technical objects in contemporary China.
We believe that mundane technological tools, which are at the core of globalization processes, need to be studied from the point of view of area studies with similar methods that humanists use to study literary texts or paintings. Area studies, and Sinology among them, have studied science and technology for a long time. However, very few area studies scholars are currently focusing on today’s new technical devices and there is a large scope of empirical research which is crucially missing.
Current projects of the Institute are the Waves and Forms project, an attempt to develop a new ontology for area studies, which includes ethnographic work on electronic music, social networking sites, and computer encodings in contemporary China and in the Middle East. The CHIPOMAP project, on the other hand focuses on the technical evolution of the software powering a digital Pollution Map developed by an NGO in Beijing, and explores how Sinology can do research on digital objects characterized by an unusual materiality and highly mixed components. The IMGAME project participates in the design of a new software for a sociological experiment known as the Imitation Game, in order to measure and record cultural differences between groups of migrants and urban residents in the Beijing Municipality. CCHAT looks into a paradigmatic shift in the study of cultural heritage and religion narratives, through discourse analysis and ethnography of Muslim tombs in the south of China. KPMart addresses how body movements can be conceptualized as embodied knowledge, and how they are produced and circulated within the context of Chinese martial arts. Another connected project, affiliated to the Institute, is LOCUS, an analysis of the use of online tools by a Syrian community with a focus on conflict issues in a digital environment.
In parallel, the IC has launched a dedicated research programme on Chinese teaching that looks into issues of lexicon morphology, error analysis, teacher training, and literary translation.
Barmé, G. R. “On New Sinology”. Chinese Studies Association of Australia Newsletter, Issue No. 3, 2005.
Barmé, G. R. "Worrying China & New Sinology". China Heritage Quarterly, 2008.
Davis, D. R. “Three Principles for an Asian Humanities: Care First. Learn from. Connect Histories”. The Journal of Asian Studies, 74-1, 43-67, 2015.
Guiheux, G. "Présence de la Chine et avenir des études chinoises". Etudes chinoises, Hors-série, 11-23, 2010.
Lie, J. “Asian Studies/Global Studies: Transcending Area Studies and Social Sciences”. Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, 2, e-journal, 2012.
Zimmermann B. Waves and Forms: Electronic Music Devices and Computer Encodings in China. Inside Technology Series. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2015.
Zimmermann B. "Le présent des objets". In Blog Scientifique de l’Institut Confucius, Université de Genève. Lien permanent: http://ic.unige.ch/?p=1088,  2017.
Zimmermann, B., & Sartoretti, N. "La Chine aujourd'hui: Techniques d'analyse du présent". Asiatische Studien / Études Asiatiques, 66(1), 163-187, 2012.