Comparative studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East

Title Comparative studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East
Location Durham, NC; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY
Publisher Duke University Press
Periodicity Thrice a year
ISSN 1089-201X
URL CSSAAME Duke University Press Website
Published Since 1981-
Indexed Holdings 2010-


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Periodical's Overview

1981: “This is the first issue of the South Asia Association Bulletin published at UCLA. (We are funded by the Graduate Students Association at UCLA.) Our principal concern in the publication will be to generate a greater consciousness of social, political and economic issues of contemporary South Asia, especially as they related to the oppression of women, workers, peasants and ethnic minorities. Economic development, specifically the growth of capitalism in the subcontinent, has by no means improved their lot. On the contrary, it can be shown that it has merely improved the living conditions of a few. For the vast majority, and this includes the preponderant majority of women, economic development has at best been a mixed blessing; at worst, it has been an outright blight. […] We do not argue against economic progress per se. Not at all. The argument is against economic progress that is inextricably bound up with burgeoning social inequality and oppression.”[1]

1993: “With Volume XIII, and in its fourteenth year of publication, South Asia Bulletin is moving into a new phase in its existence. Hitherto, our principal focus has been on the politics, economies and cultures of South Asia. We have, in the past, published the occasional article, or even focus section, on Africa and Middle East, but we have not been able to promote a systematic comparison of these historically-linked regions, as we would have liked to do. Starting with the present issue, we intend to develop a far more systematic effort to publish articles on Africa and the Middle East that speak to comparable situations in South Asia--whether it is development, environment, the crises of agriculture, liberalization, the human rights situation, women’s movements, populist political mobilizations, the new right, or a host of similar topics.[2]

2013: “Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (CSSAAME) seeks to bring the study of region into sustained conversation with the humanistic and social science disciplines. How the theories and methods of these disciplines relate to regions, and how regions generate theories and methods of their own, are issues of great interest, even urgency, to the contemporary academy. The journal is committed to publishing original research in such areas as well as critical reflection on major debates; comparative or connective scholarship, especially where comparison or connection is itself a subject for theorization; and studies of particular regions where these contribute to larger arguments. Although the focus of the journal will be on the early modern, modern, and the contemporary, work from all historical periods will be considered.”[3]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Agonism (political science)
  • Arabs - Brazil
  • Buddhist sects - Thailand
  • Comfort women - Korea
  • Company towns - Kuwait
  • Creoles - Sierra Leone
  • East Indians - Guyana
  • Educational change - Zambia
  • Imperialism - 21st century
  • Indian Ocean Region - civilization
  • Iran - constitutional history
  • Iraq Petroleum Company
  • Islamic modernism
  • Literary criticism - Nigeria
  • Mass media - Bahrain
  • Muslims - China
  • National security - Israel
  • New Left - Iran
  • Palestinian Arabs - Lebanon
  • Printing, Arabic - history
  • Sassanids - history
  • Secularism - Egypt
  • Student movements - India
  • Ugandan literature - 20th century
  • Zoroastrianism - rituals


In order to situate this very interesting academic journal, let’s start with a definition:

“Area studies are interdisciplinary fields of research and scholarship pertaining to particular geographical, national/federal, or cultural regions. The term exists primarily as a general description for what are, in the practice of scholarship, many heterogeneous fields of research, encompassing both the social sciences and the humanities.”[4]

And let’s continue with a little bit of historical background:

“Interdisciplinary area studies became increasingly common in the United States and in Western scholarship after World War II. Before the war, American universities had just a few faculty who taught or conducted research on the non-Western world. Foreign area studies were virtually nonexistent. After the war, liberals and conservatives alike were concerned about the U.S. ability to respond effectively to perceived external threats from the Soviet Union and China and the emerging Cold War, as well as to the fall-out from the decolonization of Africa and Asia.

In this context, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York convened a series of meetings producing a broad consensus that to address this knowledge deficit, the U.S. must invest in international studies. Therefore, the foundations of the field are strongly rooted in America.”[5]

Fast forward to 1981, when a group of graduate students from UCLA published the first issue of South Asia bulletin; thirteen years after, the journal changed its name to the more comprehensive title, Comparative studies of South Asia, Middle East, and Africa; according to its founding editors, Vasant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar, the journal's mission remained to challenge “the domains of academic specialization that are in part the result of the imbrication of social scientific inquiry within the matrix of European colonial priorities, and the later exigencies of American imperialism, expressed somewhat crudely in the area studies prevalent in the modern academy.”[6]

These methodological struggles--area studies vs. region studies, exceptionalism vs. interconnectedness--are of course a reflection of the seismic shifts that have taken place in the production of knowledge in the world since the end of the World War II with the dismantling of European colonialism, the rise of U.S. imperialism, and the struggles for civil rights and representation by historically repressed peoples and knowledges around the world; to these methodological questions ample space is given in CSSAAME’s pages,[7] augmenting our understanding of the political and ideological implications of knowledge production and distribution.

But the question remains, what knowledge is produced and distributed by CSSAAME, besides these important albeit arcane academic disciplinary struggles?

The answer is a heady mix of international scholarship focused on prying open not only the historical and ongoing interconnectedness of the “regions” under their scrutiny, but the irrepressible richness of human experience through centuries of diasporic exchange; importantly for our current historical crucible, it highlights the urgent need for a knowledgeable citizenry in order to address the ideological underpinnings of political and social sciences in general, to “dismantle this politically-loaded approach and to cast doubt on the continued search for origins and essence, and the binary terms it generates: primordial/modern, indigenous/foreign and so on.”[8]

Perusing CSSAAME’s pages is then a dizzying Alephian enterprise: from histories of oil and urban modernity in the Middle East--or as a subtitle has it, “from colonial town to nostalgic city”--to “contemporary Iranian Jewish identities;” from corpse trafficking and “Ottoman-Iranian rivalry in nineteenth century Iraq” to “negotiating the jazz public in 1920s Istanbul;” from “secularism in rural Bangladesh” to the “U.S. War on Terror and Arab cross-border mobilizations in a South American frontier region;” from “Soviet Central Asia children’s books” to Chinese Muslims via “a Central Asia merchant’s treatise on government and society in Ming China;” and on and on, our reality’s complexities, its historical and current richness, are rendered concrete in CSSAAME’s pages.

If one were to ever doubt the political and ethical implications of knowledge, CSSAAME’s project would be the perfect vehicle to dispel this misconception; it is only by having access to a sobering understanding of our historical entanglements that one can move forward towards a politics of justice and redress, if only because “a critical body of literature that demonstrates the historical recentness of our apparently ‘timeless’ national and communal identities should help at least the progressive elements contest right-wing culturalist and national movements. After all, it is not just the South Asian subcontinent that has been settled, unsettled and resettled by war, migration, trade, colonialism, and the uneven geography of capitalist development.”[9]

To this ever urgent project, the pages of Comparative studies of South Asia, Middle East, and Africa are dedicated.

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[1]Vasat Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar. “Editorial,” South Asia bulletin (Winter 1981), vol. 1, no. 1: 1.

[2]Vasat Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar. “Launching a new South Asia bulletin/Comparative studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” South Asia bulletin (1993), vol. 13, nos. 1&2: 1-4.

[3]Comparative studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East: mission statement,” Comparative studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (Durham), vol. 33, no. 2 (2013): 135.

[4]From the Wikipedia, Area studies


[6]Kaiwar, Mazumdar, “Launching...,” ibid.

[7]For example, when the new editors issued the journal’s new mission statement, their text was followed by a whole dossier dedicated to responses from a variety of international scholars reconsidering the “regions” framework. See, “Mission statement responses,” Comparative studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (Durham), vol. 33, no. 2 (2013) : 137-158.

[8]Kaiwar, Mazumdar, “Launching...,” ibid.