2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 294

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Roundtable: How Can China Studies Contribute to the General Study of Society and Politics?

Organizer: Leigh K. Jenco, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom

Chair: Elizabeth J. Perry, Harvard University, USA

Discussants: Leigh K. Jenco, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom; Kimberley Manning, Concordia University, Canada; Marie-Eve Reny, University of Montreal, Canada; Mary Alice Haddad, Wesleyan University, USA; Timothy C. Cheek, University of British Columbia, Canada

Typical characterizations of the relationship between area studies and the disciplines tend to portray the former as testing grounds for the more general theories and methods produced in the latter. This roundtable considers how this relationship can be reversed, specifically asking how or if the field of China studies can contribute to more general conversations about politics and society in other parts of the world; and how ideas originating in or about China can transform not simply the substantial topics of the disciplines but also the grounds of their claims to knowledge. In the past 30 years, the China studies field has developed an unusually broad and internally self-referential discourse drawing from China’s success as one of the most culturally innovative, ethnically diverse, and politically enduring societies across human history. However, China studies has failed to become a “producer field” (Elizabeth Perry, CQ, 1994)--its researchers have developed few theories or methods usable in scholarly research on other regions or topics, and very little of the literary, historical, or political-theoretical insights generated in or about China have made their way into general disciplinary canons. The panelists will consider: How can we bridge area-studies divides, where China studies produces explanatory models for social science (Manning) and grounds more productive comparative frameworks (Reny)? How can we derive “theory” from the ongoing intellectual conversations of Chinese thinkers (Jenco) or from their specific historical and political experiences (Haddad) to inform broader Anglophone and Sinophone scholarly praxis? What institutional transformations can ensure these results (Cheek)?