Area studies has always been controversial. Over the decades, the field has been criticized for lacking theoretical rigor and accused of complicity with the political agendas of the Cold War. More recently, controversy has tended to focus on the notion of “area” itself. The image of the area as a territorial block, bound together by long-standing geographical and cultural forces has come under increasing critical scrutiny. Debates on the notion of area, the author argues, have the potential to invigorate and enrich area studies. In this article, the author draws on critical area studies approaches proposed by scholars Arjun Apadurai, Willem van Schendel, and others and outlines the notion of “liquid area studies” to draw out themes for future debate and research. As one approach to the development of liquid area studies, this article suggests that we might reverse the normal macrolevel focus on the definition of areas. By focusing instead on microlevel studies of the shifting webs of connection that link a particular locus to the wider world it is possible to shed some new light on the social and cultural meaning of area in historical perspective. This article explores one case study drawn from Korean history as a framework for exploring possible future directions in liquid area studies.

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