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Who needs American Studies?

Globalization, Nationalism, and the Future of Area Studies

Boris Vormann

Pages 387 - 406


Since the mid-1970s the United States and other North Atlantic nation-states have been undergoing complex processes of state restructuring. In this context, many authors have predicted the ‘end of the nation,’ the ‘end of territory,’ even the ‘end of history.’ What is the future of area studies such as American Studies—which have traditionally been premised on the assumption of national societies—in an emerging, allegedly postnational world? This article contends that both nations and nation-states have by no means been overcome, despite pervasive arguments to the contrary. While nations and nation-states might have changed in form, they have gained importance in facilitating seemingly detached flows of globalization, providing a rich and largely understudied field of research. Area studies can serve as a research strategy to challenge existing, methodologically nationalistic perspectives without falling into the extreme of ignoring the category of the national altogether—as American Studies after the transnational turn has tended to do. I argue that American Studies will remain relevant in the future, not only because the nation and the nation-state continue to be important categories worthy of more intense study, but also because critical area studies, if they take a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, can serve as a remedy against one often neglected form of methodological nationalism that has consequences beyond the immediate concerns of American Studies and area studies, namely academic specialization.


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