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Does place still matter?: The case for Nepal Studies

Michael Hutt

SOAS South Asia Institute, University of London



The multidisciplinary field known as Area Studies is predicated upon the significance of place—the specificities of language, culture, demography, economy, and history—and its practitioners takes it as axiomatic that "place matters" when we are discussing social, economic, political and cultural processes.  But the academic regionalisation of the world has come under increasing criticism in recent decades, and the publicly-funded development of in-depth scholarly expertise on faraway lands in the Euro-American academy is increasingly seen as an expensive luxury. 

It is true that arguments for the continued value and relevance of Area Studies cannot be based on claims for the particular significanceof specific geographical areas, not least because the delineation of these areas is historically contingent and shifts over time. However, in this lecture I will argue that the teaching of languages and the maintenance of research and teaching programmes on "faraway lands" remains as important as it has ever been.   Citing a number of examples from recent research on Nepal conducted by myself and others, I will seek to demonstrate that work that is area-specific and empirical can inject grounded wisdom into wider debates on questions of nationalism, revolution, identity and the formation of public opinion.