2002 volume 20(6) pages 647 – 668
doi:10.1068/d16s

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van Schendel W, 2002, "Geographies of knowing, geographies of ignorance: jumping scale in Southeast Asia" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20(6) 647 – 668

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Geographies of knowing, geographies of ignorance: jumping scale in Southeast Asia

Willem van Schendel

Received 6 February 2002; in revised form 27 March 2002

Abstract. 'Area studies' use a geographical metaphor to visualise and naturalise particular social spaces as well as a particular scale of analysis. They produce specific geographies of knowing but also create geographies of ignorance. Taking Southeast Asia as an example, in this paper I explore how areas are imagined and how area knowledge is structured to construct area 'heartlands' as well as area `borderlands'. This is illustrated by considering a large region of Asia (here named Zomiatf) that did not make it as a world area in the area dispensation after World War 2 because it lacked strong centres of state formation, was politically ambiguous, and did not command sufficient scholarly clout. As Zomia was quartered and rendered peripheral by the emergence of strong communities of area specialists of East, Southeast, South, and Central Asia, the production of knowledge about it slowed down. I suggest that we need to examine more closely the academic politics of scale that create and sustain area studies, at a time when the spatialisation of social theory enters a new, uncharted terrain. The heuristic impulse behind imagining areas, and the high-quality, contextualised knowledge that area studies produce, may be harnessed to imagine other spatial configurations, such as 'crosscutting' areas, the worldwide honeycomb of borderlands, or the process geographies of transnational flows. Scholars of all conventional areas can be involved in this project to 'jump scale' and to develop new concepts of regional space.

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