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New SNSF Sinergia project on 'Reversing the Gaze'

Thu 1 October 2020

Reversing the Gaze logo

A new SNSF Sinergia project on 'Reversing the Gaze: Towards Post-Comparative Area Studies’ has been launched. The research project examines the crisis of liberal democracy in Europe and aims at developing new methodological and theoretical perspectives on comparison and 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 conceptualisations 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-tribalisation”, “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.

"I'm delighted to bring this project to Edinburgh. Edinburgh's excellence in area studies, and its longstanding willingness to enquire into how scientific knowledge is produced makes it a really great home for this project," said Dr Deval Desai, Lecturer in International Economic Law at Edinburgh Law School and principal investigator of the project.

"I've already set up promising discussions with colleagues and researchers at the Edinburgh Centre for International and Global Law so that the project can benefit from their transnational perspective - not to mention the Law School’s long tradition of comparative legal scholarship.

"As a PI, it's going to be great to see the project contribute to these strengths, while deepening more recent debates around decolonising scholarly knowledge through a set of methodologically-oriented inquiries into what sorts of comparisons might be possible in light of those critiques.”

‘Reversing the Gaze’ is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) in the frame of the Sinergia programme. 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.

Visit the project website