Redesigning Area Studies
Area studies are going through a period of reform. Facing globalization, Asian studies scholars have suggested new theoretical and methodological approaches (e.g. Barmé 2005, Zimmermann 2005, Pollock 2009, Guiheux 2010, Lie 2012, Davis 2015, Zimmermann & Sartoretti 2012, Zimmermann 2015). In the People's Republic of China specifically, as the country is driven by a fast economic development, institutions attached to the Ministry of Education such as 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 a key issue lies in the world-wide development of information and communication technology. In order to contribute to the current academic debates, the Institut Confucius de l'Université de Genève has initiated a series of research projects in anthropology of innovation, with a focus on the study of everyday technical objects.
We believe that mundane technological tools, which are at the core of globalization processes, need to be studied from the perspective of humanities, i.e. with similar methods that humanists use to study physical objects such as literary texts, paintings, sculptures, or movies. Asian studies have studied science and technology for a long time, however, very few scholars focus on today’s new technical devices and a large scope of empirical research is 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 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. 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. Other connected projects, affiliated to the Institute, are LOCUS, an analysis of the use of online tools by a Syrian community with a focus on conflict issues in a digital environment, and CERTIFY, a research project in information systems that develops a software to fight fake news related to people's daily life in Europe and in the Middle East.
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.
Pollock, S. "Future Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World". Critical Inquiry, 35.4, pp. 931-961, 2009.
Zimmermann, B. "Technology is Culture: Two Paradigms". In Leonardo Music Journal, 15.1, pp. 53-57, 2005.
Zimmermann, B., & Sartoretti, N. "La Chine aujourd'hui: Techniques d'analyse du présent". Asiatische Studien / Études Asiatiques, 66(1), 163-187, 2012.
Zimmermann B. Waves and Forms: Electronic Music Devices and Computer Encodings in China. Inside Technology Series. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2015.