In the electronic Global Studies Journal, Global-E, Sophia University sociology professor David Wank explores the idea of global studies as academic field (part 1 & part 2). This is of particular relevance to me as I am one of the people in charge of creating a center of global education at my college.
So, the basic question that Wank asks is whether "global studies" is an academic field in the first place. Is "global studies" a discipline? Does it have a clear subject matter? A clear research method through which it approaches and studies phenomena? These are questions that all institutions of higher education have to answer as soon as they start creating a global studies program. For Wank, these are traditional difficulties that all interdisciplinary programs face in discipline-based organizations.
Secondly, Wank raises the question of whether "global studies" is "old wine in a new bottle". What disciplines, now, do not recognize the importance of global and transnational phenomena and influences? How is global studies different than multicultural or area or comparative studies? Which, of course, gets us back to the question of the subject matter and methodology of global studies.
Third, Wank contends that global studies can be seen as part of the spearheading of the new post-Cold War neo-liberal order. I tend to disagree. From what I know of global studies programs I have studied, it seems that the opposite is the case. Global studies programs generally question the good and the bad about globalization from a variety of perspectives.
Of course, the central, organizing concept of global studies is globalization. Now, as soon as one uses that work, we’re in for lengthy debates about its meaning, its popularization or even its very relevance. Nevertheless, Wank and his department established three different frameworks of analysis for globalization:
A world systemic framework that sees the world as a single order: some examples are Immanuel Wallerstein’s capitalist world system, John Meyer’s world cultural polity, and some concepts of global governance.
A transnationalist framework that looks at flows and actions that move across two or more national state spaces. Examples are the works of Arjun Appadurai, Saskia Sassen and others.
A third framework is global/local, which highlights how lives and processes in locales are constituted and animated by an awareness of being or existing in a global world: the works of Roland Robertson are seminal.
And what of methodology? Do global studies have a specific approach to their subject matter? On this, Wank is not clear. From his examples, it seems that global studies borrows its methodologies from its component disciplines. In which case, one can question whether it is a field in the first place.
Regarding curriculum, according to Wank, there are usually six types of courses offered in global studies programs:
Wank adds that any global studies program should have a strong critical component, for instance through the study of notorious globalization critiques (such as Naomi Klein or Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri) or the study of the alter-globalization social movements, as well as peace studies components and courses on alternative to the dominant orthodoxy (which makes sociology relevant , and yet underrepresented, in these programs that are usually dominated by economics or political sciences).
The usual frustration when reading such articles is that the analysis is mostly geared toward the creation of graduate global studies programs. But what of the undergraduate side of things? That part is usually left out. A major lacunae in my view.