Crossroads Studies: From Spatial Containers to Studying the Mobile

Anna-Katharina Hornidge, Katja Mielke


The research network Crossroads Asia, funded by the BMBF, started off in March 2011 with the aim to question the validity of the conventional ‘world regions’ of Central and South Asia as defining bases for area studies as conceptualized, organized, and taught at German universities. The increasing mobility of people, goods and ideas along Asia’s crossroads—so the network's underlying assumption—can no longer justify a division of the world in territorially fixed ‘areas’, defined by certain character traits to be found on the ‘inside’, but instead demands concepts of ‘area’ that take these dynamisms into account. For doing so, the network chose a novel approach with Norbert Elias’ figurations at its conceptual centre. After three years of largely empirical, ethnographic research, the network has indulged in a process of bringing the different empirical insights on the role of mobilities and immobilities in the spatialities of everyday life together by discussing the conceptual, methodological, and epistemological research outcomes and lessons they offer for conventional area studies approaches. This text offers a brief summary and overview, hoping to invite other interested scholars into the debate.


Rethinking Area Studies; Crossroads Studies; Follow the Figuration; Multi-sited Ethnograph; Mid-range Concepts; Decolonising the Academy

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Anna-Katharina Hornidge is Professor of Development and Knowledge Sociology at the Leibniz-Institute of Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) [] and the University of Bremen. She holds a habilitation in Development research from Bonn University and a PhD in sociology from the Technical University of Berlin. As the former scientific coordinator and current executive board member of Crossroads Asia, she is particularly interested in the interaction-based communicative and discursive constructions of everyday realities in non-Western/non-Northern contexts. Additional research interests include the linkage between natural resources governance and sense-making in the Anthropocene, cultural and knowledge politics, as well as innovation development processes. Her regional expertise comprises Southeast and Central Asia. email:

Katja Mielke is a researcher at the Bonn International Center for Conversion (bicc) []. She holds a PhD in development research from Bonn University. As founding member of the research network Crossroads Asia, she engages in the debate on rethinking area studies and epistemic ordering. Her further research interests lie in the field of political sociology at the intersection of conflict and development research and include questions of norm transfer, social mobilization and conflict, inequality and social (im-)mobility, local governance (politics, power, legitimacy, and representation) in rural and urban contexts, social order, and non-institutionalised forms of power and of movements. Her regional expertise covers Russia, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. email: