UCI social sciences professors Eve Darian-Smith and Philip McCarty don’t just study global issues – they’ve literally written the book on how to do it. The Global Turn: Theories, Research Designs, and Methods for Global Studies (UC Press 2017), available online, uses a case study approach to explain how the complicated, huge landscape of global studies can be broken down into manageable research topics. Written as a guide for scholars looking to easily access global issues, the book focuses on question-driven research design and selective analysis with a transdisciplinary approach.
“Early arguments were that global studies was a meeting hall of sorts for disciplines to come together and talk at each other,” says McCarty. “We argue that it has transitioned into something new.”
With decades of global studies experience between them, the husband/wife team has seen the field transform into something more than the sum of its parts. The book provides historical context for the emerging field of global studies and the need for a way to make the intricate, complex nature of issues like the political economy, environment and conflict easier to study in a global setting.
The story starts with Darian-Smith’s “aha” moment in 1995, directly following her dissertation defense at the University of Chicago.
“I was standing in the foyer of Haskell Hall discussing with Marshall Sahlins – one of the most eminent anthropologists in the U.S. – the challenges of doing ethnographic research in the increasingly complex global age, and it hit me. In addition to being an anthropologist, we have to be historians, well versed in law, literature, politics, economics, cultural studies and more,” she says. “I realized how frantically overwhelming the field of international and global studies is becoming and how as scholars we need to be aware of these transcending issues.”
She’d already gotten her feet wet dealing with the legal side, working as a corporate lawyer in Melbourne, Australia. The experience helped push her into graduate study at Harvard where she earned her master’s in anthropology and then on to the Chicago where she earned her Ph.D. in anthropology. Her dual interests helped shape her thesis on the building of the Channel Tunnel and the transnational impact of the European Union on the people living in southern England. In 1995, she joined the faculty at UC Santa Barbara where she met McCarty who had just returned from fieldwork in Mexico. He was fascinated with the ways that the arrival of large multinational corporations in small rural communities was dramatically changing the lives of the local people.
“We couldn’t clearly express it at the time, but both of us were doing field research that engaged with the issues and impacts of globalization, even though at the time no university had a department of global studies and only a few scholars were starting to wrap their heads around globalization,” says Darian-Smith.
“We’d get into these heated, knock down drag out arguments about this kind of stuff,” says McCarty. “At one point, we looked at each other and said what else can you do when you get into these kind of debates with someone who cares so deeply about the same issues? You get married, of course.” They did, and he went on to complete his master’s in anthropology and his Ph.D. in sociology at UC Santa Barbara.
Professionally, the couple continued to dive deeper into the global forces that were changing concepts of nationalism, identity and people’s sense of belonging.
“Climate change, post-national identities, social media, electronic surveillance, drones, unending civil wars, regional genocide, new forms of terrorism and violence – across the humanities and social sciences, scholars are confronting a range of problems and ideas that couldn’t even be articulated 30 years ago,” says Darian-Smith. “Conceptually and from a theoretical perspective, understanding these issues requires a transdisciplinary perspective, and it calls for new research designs and methods to really understand what’s going on.”
Over the course of the last 20 years, they’ve been developing a case study method that can serve as a blueprint for students and established scholars looking to better study and understand a wide range of global issues. At its heart is question-driven research design.
“We try to break down the study of global issues from the local perspective. Students can go and study global issues in their own backyard, at the convenience store, anywhere,” says McCarty. “It’s really more about the questions you’re asking. What are you trying to ask and how do you want to go about answering?”
From there, the researcher can draw upon the disciplines that make up the transdisciplinary field –history, political science, anthropology, sociocultural studies, geography, economics – to ask specific questions.
They stress that it’s important that projects are developed to address certain dimensions.
“You can’t do them all,” says Darian-Smith; “you have to pick and choose. Doing so intentionally and consciously as part of the design process to answer specific questions about these complicated interacting global issues – climate change, transnational labor movements, Islamophobia, gender discrimination–allows the researcher to get past divisions and be able to do something truly transdisciplinary.”
The idea plays through to the cover art chosen for their book. It features the work of Australian artist Fred Williams who brought indigenous perspectives to art, and presented a disorienting and – at the time – totally unique view of the Australian outback. They picked the image as a metaphor for global studies.
“It uses an infinite horizon perspective and tilted ground – one that really unmoors you – you have no way to measure foreground and distance. When people encounter the global, and engage in global contexts, a lot of the old rules of how we study politics, society, history and so on in a modern Western framework become disrupted by this complicated, huge landscape of global studies. We get that same sort of disorientation that Williams was trying to create in his artwork,” says McCarty.
As a new lecturer with security of employment in social sciences at UCI, McCarty will be teaching the next generation of international studies scholars how to reorient themselves in this new chaotic environment. Darian-Smith – as an anthropology and law professor and the new director of international studies on campus - will be drawing on a global perspective to reorganize the school’s international studies program into a full department, complete with growing enrollments in the one of the campus’s top 10 undergraduate programs, and a new a graduate track and organized research component.
So in time, they’ll not only have written the book on how to study global issues, they’ll also be working to develop their methodologies and research as part of a full-fledged new department at UCI. And the campus is excited to have them on board.
-Heather Ashbach, UCI School of Social Sciences