Coherence and Equivalence: Geographic Imaginaries of Global/Middle East/South Asia

By Tessa Farmer
Submitted to Session P4995 (Teaching in and on MENA: Programs and Histories, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper will chart the geographic imaginaries of a newly designed undergraduate interdisciplinary major that seeks to bring together the Middle East, South Asia and the Global. As a new track of the popular Global Studies program at the University of Virginia, the new major is responding to the call for “area studies after area studies” by attending to what becomes visible when the depth of perspective gained from long-term scholarly commitments to particular places is married to pressing questions about human flourishing at larger scales of inquiry. While scholarly discussions of globalization have waned in recent years, the globe looms large in the imagination of students and university administrators. For administrators, the project of the global is often one of reach and reputation, with global presence often equating to study abroad programs in select capitals of commerce and the draw of wealthy international students. For students, the global is aspirational, a space of potential self-actualization and the possibility of being out-competed. In response to the pressure of the global that is “everywhere” and “nowhere,” this program offers two regions situated in the configuration of the “global south.” These geographic imaginaries involve particular slights of hand that enable the construction of the Middle East and South Asia as coherent and equivalent, and as providing meaningful depth and context to the “global.” Drawing on textual analysis and ethnographic methods, the paper will examine the attempts to realign geography to an imagination of “area studies after area studies,” including an investigation into what students believe this project offers them as future “global citizens.”