Area studies was originally set up to provide strategically important information for the US empire, while ethnic studies was an aftermath of the civil rights movement critiques it from within. This alone may explain the hostility between area studies and ethnic studies, but the crucial pivot around which this hostility can be better understood is the question of race. What happens when we racialize area studies—that is, to investigate the racial unconscious of area studies—where the “area” as such has been turned into a fetish, with its attendant racial, gender, and libidinal politics? Reading select Sinophone literary texts as allegories of area studies, in this case the Sinitic script as the fetish object, further illuminates the imperative to defetishize the area and bring race squarely into area studies.
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Shu-mei Shih; Racializing Area Studies, Defetishizing China. positions 1 February 2019; 27 (1): 33–65. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-7251806
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