Monday, November 25, 2013

Supporting International Knowledge Networks to Improve Domestic Programs

by Godfrey Angara

Professor Michael Kennedy, of Brown University, came to the University of Illinois on 19 September 2013 and presented, “What Can Afghanistan, Kosova, and Poland Tell Us about American Universities?” By the end of his lecture, he had provided his audience with a solid foundation of what is necessary for area studies to thrive within American universities. The thread that he wove through Afghanistan, Kosova, and Poland was the idea of knowledge networks and the importance it plays in the institutionalization of area studies programs in American universities and establishing scholarly recognition.

Figure 1 Florian Znaniecki,
44th President of the American Sociological Association
and former University of Illinois professor
A knowledge network can be described as a web of intellectual minds that are within the same fields of study that can relay, question, and challenge one another’s theories.  These networks help strengthen the theoretical significance in English scholarship. Kennedy chose to use the Polish sociologist, Florian Znaniecki, who helped contribute to the growth and success of the Polish knowledge network, which contributed to the significance of Poland in the American sociological sphere. With a mix of post World War II events, in Polish history, and a strong knowledge network, Poland has become an important topic in English language scholarship. Kennedy juxtaposed the example of Poland, the nation state and its academic community, with a strongly established knowledge network, to two nation-states (Afghanistan and Kosova) that do not have these knowledge networks and ultimately do not have the same importance within English language scholarship.

During the lecture, Kennedy had expressed how Afghanistan should be central to American academic interests. This statement is hard to counter because the United States has had a military and political influence within that country for over a decade. One would think that if Poland’s post-World War II history is so significant in the English language scholarship, then a nation-state where America has had so much influence in such a relatively short span of time would also be as significant. However, Kennedy suggested that there is not a credible academic link because Afghanistan does not have a strong knowledge network. Enter Ashraf Ghani. Kennedy emphasized how Ghani has been attempting to form an Afghani version of a knowledge network, but it has not been catching on. After viewing Ghani’s TED Talk, I find it incredible th
at this dynamic man cannot mirror the success of Znaniecki.

If American universities are interested in fostering the growth of diverse area studies, it might be necessary to start supporting international actors and organizations before a credible area studies program can be produced. Connecting intellectuals from the same fields or supporting research might enhance the build up of knowledge networks in nation-states that are lacking them such as Afghanistan. Fortunately, according to Kennedy, Europe has been riding the global wave. Europe has been so closely linked to global studies programs because the region has been continuously supportive of European studies and has a very strong and credible knowledge network. This European support can be explicitly seen within our own university’s European Union Center.

Godfrey Angara is a graduate fellow with the Department of Political Science’s Civic Leadership Program. He is currently pursuing his MA in Political Science and plans to graduate in May 2014. Godfrey’s interest in American-European relations brought him to intern at the U.S. Embassy in London this past spring. Through a combination of internships at the U.S. Embassies in London and Manila, he discovered a strong desire to join the Foreign Service post graduation.
Figure 1 graphic source:


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