Ghent Centre for Global Studies officially launched

Launch Academic SessionOn Monday October 28, 2013, we have officially launched the Ghent Centre for Global Studies, with interdisciplinary workshops and a public Academic Session, followed by a reception. We had the honour of being joined by 3 distinguished guest speakers Matthias Middell, professor of Global History and Director of the Global and European Studies Institute at the University of Leipzig; Peter Taylor, professor of Human Geography at Northumbria University and founder-director of the Globalization and World Cities Research Network; and Heather Widdows, Professor of Global Ethics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham.

In the afternoon session, entitled “Building an Interdisciplinary Global Studies Research Agenda”, members of the 10 affiliated research groups participated in 3 (parallel) interdisciplinary workshops on core common themes:

  • Global, Regional and Local Governance, with lectures by Dries Lesage and Koen Vlassenroot, comments by Heather Widdows and moderated by Baz Lecocq
  • Urban versus Rural Worlds? Concepts and Interactions, with lectures by Ben Derudder and Eric Vanhaute, comments by Peter Taylor and moderated by Tom Claes
  • Constructing the Global: World-making Projects, with lectures by Christopher Parker and Jo Van Steenbergen, comments by Matthias Middell and moderated by Sami Zemi

After 2 short introductory lectures by professors of the Ghent Centre for Global Studies, and inspiring comments by our international guest speakers, junior and senior researchers engaged in an open debate across the disciplines, moderated by a third professor of the Centre, to explore common theoretical perspectives, methods and topics. This interdisciplinary dialogue was an inherently difficult, but also a rewarding exercise, that will enrich ongoing research and constitutes the first step towards the establishment of a strong research tradition in critical Global Studies at Ghent University. We will continue this dialogue in our Global Studies Research Seminar, at an annual Research Day (as from next year), and in other future workshops and conferences.

The subsequent public Academic Session “Critical Global Studies in a Globalizing World” was devoted to the question of the social and political relevance of Global Studies. Our vice-rector, Professor Freddy Mortier, gave a stimulating opening address, in which he stressed the need for critical Global Studies research and education, fostering a “global literacy” that is the precondition for the strength and promotion of democracy in a globalizing world.

Professor Koen Vlassenroot, the chair of the steering committee of the Ghent Centre for Global Studies, then presented the Centre, emphasizing its distinct interdisciplinary profile and specific critical approach. By uniting not only geographers, social and political scientists, economists and jurists, but also historians and philosophers, the centre can pay special attention to the often ignored historical and ethical dimensions of global processes. Contrary to dominant perceptions of globalization, which tend to assume that the global situates itself above the local, informs the local yet cannot be localized itself, the Centre aims at a more critical understanding of the complex interaction and inter-connection between the local and the global, and the different processes at the local level that contribute to the shaping of the global.

The first of our international guest speakers, Matthias Middell of the Global and European Studies Institute at Leipzig University, provided a insightful critical overview of the field of Global Studies in his lecture “What is Global Studies all about?” Born in the early 1990 in the buzz around the presumed new phenomenon of globalization, Global Studies has matured into a well-established field of critical study of the “global condition”, i.e. the qualitative change in world history to global interconnectedness and interdependency that occurred around the mid-19th century. Building on critical geography and in close cooperation with Area Studies, Global Studies analyses the processes of de- and reterritorialization that accompany this global condition. Watch the lecture here.

Heather Widdows of the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, discussed “What Global Ethics can do and why it matters”, demonstrating the three key features and the core added-value of Global Ethics: its multidisciplinarity, its connection between theory and practice (as exemplified by the social initiatives of leading Global Ethics scholars), and its inherently global scope. She illustrated her argument for a global ethical approach – even to issues that are often considered to be of only local relevance or are deemed to be an individual right – with the forceful example of the global public goods of a safe environment and the prevention of drug-resistance. Watch the lecture here.

Our last distinguished speaker Peter Taylor, founder and director of the Globalization and World Cities Research Network, continued in the same vain by presenting his views on “Green networks of cities: the necessity for Global Studies.” Defining climate change as the quintessential global problem, he then demonstrated the historical world-making power of urbanization, arguing convincingly that the creative and innovative potential of cities needs to be strengthened and directed towards a global green future. Watch the lecture here.

In the closing roundtable debate the guest lecturers were joined by professor Eric Vanhaute, founding member of the Ghent Centre for Global Studies and John Vandaele, a journalist for MO*Magazine specialized in globalization. With his trenchant questions the moderator Jan-Frederik Abbeloos, a journalist for De Standaard, ran a lively debate on the social and political relevance of Global Studies, in which the links between academia and activism were discussed, next to the critical educational contribution of Global Studies; the strengths of this field, as well as its limits in terms of its Western roots and – not yet – world-wide institutionalization; and its (in)ability to influence public policies.

We would like to thank all of our guests, the participating researchers and the audience that turned up in large numbers, for making this launch a successful and inspiring event. We hope to see you again at one of our future lectures, seminars and conferences.