CETREN - Promoting Transregional Research and “The Politics of the New”

Promoting Transregional Research

CETREN promotes transregional research and comparative work across various disciplines on the Göttingen Research Campus. It enables scholars to transcend the rigid boundaries of area and national studies and develop wider, comparative scholarly insights into processes and phenomena of global significance. At the same time our research remains firmly "place-based," grounded in a substantive social, political, and historical context; informed by but not confined to different regional and areal specializations.

Transregional research has a leading role in revitalizing disciplinary scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, and in solving a range of problems that currently preoccupy academic communities across the globe. Current trends within disciplines are reinforcing intra-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary divides that are highly problematic. Certain disciplines are becoming increasingly fragmented and polarized in both epistemological and thematic terms with often acrimonious debates over issues of method and generalisation. The ensuing intellectual struggles over disciplinary ground and prestige often unhelpfully frame issues of international research as oppositions between "universalism vs. particularism,” "qualitative vs. quantitative methods” and "area studies vs. disciplines,” which may descend into polemics and stereotyping of disciplines or types of research, instead of searching for common ground, collaboration or cross-over learning. The divide between the humanities and social sciences is another significant problem, which has become increasingly acute during the last twenty years.

Finally, at an institutional level, there is a fragmentation of the infrastructure of university-based research and training into a large and overlapping number of centres, programs, institutes and units across the campus landscape in different countries. While this can have the positive effect of focusing resources and enabling interdisciplinary collaborations, it also often “privatizes” such resources and knowledge to small groups of faculty and students without assuring the necessary broader integration and synergies and longer-term benefits.

We understand CETREN with the explicit mandate of addressing this pressing problem of intellectual fragmentation and division. Its establishment provides a venue for generating context-specific, historically and culturally informed research that is at the same time engaged in generalized, comparative debates. It will bring together scholars from humanities and social science disciplines to generate new, collaborative scholarship, and will institutionally integrate the different areal and disciplinary profiles within a university to form a productive, viable, and tangible intellectual community. Thus the main contribution of transregional research is not just to the cause of regional or area studies scholarship, but to the scholarly endeavour as a whole.

The Politics of the New

CETREN has a central nodal theme around which scholars of different regional and disciplinary backgrounds can successfully organise and coordinate their research: “The Politics of the New”. Elaborated in discourse and culture, the theme of newness has been a common refrain in otherwise opposed ideological formations, ranging from the high-capitalist hailing of "innovation” to socialist credos of revolutionary change; from modernist discourses of "postcolonial development” to neo- liberal discourses of "globalization”. How do these various ideas and practices, structures and cultures, of "the new” converge and diverge from each other, both within and across time and space? What are the social and political opportunities and exclusions produced by the new as a category of analysis and also of practice? What structures and relations of power are authorized by the call to newness? These are the animating questions of the CETREN initiative. Bringing together scholars with diverse regional and historical expertise around a common theme of "the politics of the new”, the CETREN network aims both to produce original scholarly insights on the politics of the new in different regional and historical contexts, and to develop effective methodologies of comparative, transregional and multi-disciplinary scholarship.

"The Politics of the New” is a particularly relevant theme for the two areas that anchor the CETREN network: India and China. Second, it enables the transregional and multi-disciplinary mandate of our initiative to effectively be realized. While CETREN is anchored in Indian, Chinese and European area studies, the initiative will involve scholars of other world regions who are interested in extending their existing research interests in new comparative directions. "The Politics of the New” is a theme that resonates across multiple world regions and historical periods, and is of concern to scholars from multiple social science and humanities disciplines, including political science, history, anthropology, sociology, geography, religion, media and cultural studies.

Finally, it is a particularly productive theme for comparative research. Cognate concepts such as modernity are inevitably identified with a particular time and space that then serve as the benchmarks against which all other versions are measured (thus, Europe as the original home of modernity). In contrast, the idea of the new is not monopolised by particular geographies or histories, and can therefore facilitate comparative research that moves beyond the limiting logic of contrasts between originals and their various regional “deviations”.