An “Area Studies” Program in France: Scientific, Institutional and Geopolitical Rationales

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: Booth 49
Oral Presentation
Ioana POPA , CNRS, France
Institutionalizing and developing “area studies” programs are commonly associated with the Cold War context, while the strengthening of knowledge about foreign areas became a goal of public research and educational policy. These developments came within scientific, academic and geopolitical rationales. Their importance could vary according to the strength of the national intellectual traditions in studying specific foreign areas, the connexions between disciplines, and the need for expertise due to the position of a particular State in the international relations. Well documented in the case of the US, these evolutions are less explored for the Western European countries, and that would allow probing their particularities. The paper focuses on the set up from the mid-1950’s of the Area Studies, and particularly of the Russian and East European Studies, by a specific actor of the French academic field: the 6th Division of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Outlining the national and international conditions determining such a process, it also points out the particularities of the local (academic, scientific, political) context and of its main initiators’ background. Thus, it questions the specific path taken by the implementation in France of this new scholarly infrastructure. Furthermore, the paper takes into account the social, professional, political characteristics of the team initially recruited for working on a “sensitive” geopolitical area and their productions, while it explicates the scientific content of research, documentation and teaching programs. They are meant to implement interdisciplinary approaches relying all the same on various disciplines, which were differently connected to the State and political power. Finally, the paper questions how the knowledge elaborated in this framework was placed in relation to approaches implemented by pro-communist committed social scientists and to what extent it could be itself of use not only in the academic milieu but also in political and economic circles.