Author: Jane I. Guyer.
After 1989, the interpretation of a complex set of disputes and exigencies settled into a conventional narrative of paradigm shift, in which the intellectual past became essentialized as "traditional area studies" and "classic anthropology." This approach obscures the processes of engagement (including dispute) by which disciplinary change occurred. The Area Studies engagement with interdisciplinary colleagues and voices from the "area" has been critically important over several decades. Necessarily, the intellectual terms for addressing other interlocutors about regional conditions and events have differed according to the experience of the area in changing universalist politics and analysis. The area/anthropology intersection is examined for Africa (where race is basic to disputes), Latin America (where the place of culture and race in political economic arguments is central), and Europe (where culture and nation are at issue). During the 1990s a collective approach to areas emerged. Anthropologists, and particularly scholars of Asia, played a major role. The varied angles from different areas are linked by a broadly shared concern with the formation of emergent political communities and with themes of governmentality. Although the wider circulation of these ideas is promising, does it risk losing the grounding and accountability that Area Studies imposed (like it or not)? The events of September 11, 2001 and those that followed have made starkly clear the poverty and the dangers of essentialism, and the importance of focusing on the loci from which terms of argumentation in relation to power arise. Middle Eastern Studies is briefly discussed as "epicenter" for defining such an approach.