CfP: RGS-IBG 2018: Private Sector Area Studies

Abstract submissions are invited for the session ‘Private Sector Area Studies: Regional Expertise & Knowledge Production in the Political Risk Industry’ (RGS-IBG Political Geography Research Group Sponsored Session) for the 2018 RGS-IBG conference to be held at Cardiff University, Tuesday 28 Friday to 31 August 2018.

Please submit abstracts to by Monday 5th Feb (the deadline for submitting the full session proposal form to the RGS-IBG is Friday 16th Feb).


Session Abstract:

Political geographers have recently outlined an emerging ‘third wave’ of critical area studies that is attentive to the politics of representation, and sceptical about the solidity of regional ‘units’ (e.g. Sidaway et al. 2016). This third wave is said to follow a first wave of (less critical, more instrumental) Imperial area studies designed to aid the British colonial project, and a second wave of Cold War area expertise cultivated among American social scientists. At the same time, others have lamented the decline of field-based area studies and the emergence of ‘new cartographic white spaces’ as reports on regional conflict are increasingly produced ‘without leaving the office’, via remote-sensing technologies and a reliance on (often unacknowledged) research assistants (Duffield 2015). Alongside this reconfiguration of area studies – towards the critical, but away from the field-based – political risk analysis has emerged as a growth industry in its own right, and one with substantial influence. Indeed, the university protocols that often impede fieldwork in regions deemed ‘risky’ are themselves dependent on ratings and advice produced by political risk analysis and insurance firms (Perera 2017). Producing maps, indices and advice for transnational executives and global policy elites – and recruiting social science graduates from elite universities (LSE, Columbia) in global financial centres – the political risk industry has emerged as a key site for the production of instrumental private sector area expertise, insulated from contemporary debates about the prospect of a ‘critical’ area studies and the decline of fieldwork-based expertise. Yet knowledge production in the political risk industry has received scant geographical attention to date.

This session invites contributions which address the following questions: (1) Through what technologies, social relations and forms of fieldwork is political risk expertise produced? (2) How do political risk analysts contribute to the propagation of particular models of geopolitics and ideal relationships between state, society and transnational corporations? (3) Who produces regional expertise in the political risk industry and how do specific educational or social networks shape political risk analysis? (4) How does this form of private sector area studies relate to earlier Imperial and Cold War iterations of strategically-minded regional expertise, and to an emerging wave of ‘critical’ area studies?