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New SNSF Sinergia project at ZASB and Institute of European Global Studies: ‘Reversing the Gaze: Towards Post-Comparative Area Studies’

Reversing the Gaze

A choir performs at the National Council chamber during open day at the Swiss Parliament, 1 August 2018 (Photo: Parlamentsdienste 3003 Bern)

The research project ‘Reversing the Gaze: Towards Post-Comparative Area Studies’ examines the crisis of liberal democracy in Europe and aims at developing new methodological and theoretical perspectives on comparison and on the Area Studies.

The project uses a “conceptual laboratory” to test the analytic purchase of mid-level political concepts through practices of reciprocal comparison. The key critical theoretical assumption is the idea of “reversing the gaze”, i.e. deploying conceptualizations developed in the Global South to the North. Three mid-level concepts derived from the Global South are applied to political crises in Europe: “re-tribalization”, “political society” and “the cunning state”. The European empirical case studies are Austria (right-wing populism), Italy (social welfare spending) and Switzerland (citizenship and migration). The project’s approach will offer innovative and conceptually out-of-the-box perspectives to the cases, differing from those derived and developed exclusively within and against a European background. The project’s scholarly outcomes include potentially new perspectives on comparison; a critical engagement with “universal” concepts and the politics of conceptual travel; and practical visions on how to imbue the pursuit of knowledge with a concern for ethical and political issues.

‘Reversing the Gaze’ is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF in the frame of the Sinergia program. The four-year project starts in October 2020 and is led by a consortium at the University of Basel, the University of Zurich, and the University of Edinburgh. The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, is a Swiss partner; international partners are based in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America.

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