In his first public speech at Yale, Arjun Appadurai delivered the keynote address “War, Terror and Identity: The Future of Disciplinary Sovereignty” at the Crossing Borders Conference on Friday.
Appadurai arrived in New Haven this fall to fill the first of the three interdisciplinary professorships created through the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, or YCIAS. With a primary appointment in Anthropology and secondary appointments in Sociology and Political Science, Appadurai came to Yale as part of the University’s mission to expand global course offerings.
The next professorship will likely be a joint appointment between the Law School and the Political Science Department and will be announced with a month, YCIAS Director Gustav Ranis said.
“They have to be eminent, international and interdisciplinary,” Ranis said. “[The purpose is] to break down the borders between schools and departments.”
In his address, Appadurai compared nations and academic disciplines in order to highlight the importance of collaboration in governance and academia. He said collaboration was especially important in light of globalization and terrorism.
The Crossing Borders Initiative started three years ago and has examined the new role for area studies, particularly focusing on migration, the environment and language and culture as it moves across boundaries, Ranis said.
“We are trying to create a hybrid class of knowledge which combines the global and local level,” Ranis said. “Our purpose is to invent more courses in the curriculum we want to leave footprints in the sand and not just passing research, but innovative courses.”
Appadurai will co-chair the Crossing Border Initiative with Comparative Literature Chairman Michael Holquist, Ranis said. Holquist said Appadurai brings energy and fun and called him “one of the major theoretical minds of our generation” when he introduced him at the conference.
Born in Bombay, India, Appadurai came to the United States to attend Brandeis University as an undergraduate, then obtained his doctorate from the University of Chicago. He taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago before coming to Yale this fall.
Appadurai will run the Initiative on Cities and Globalization, where he hopes to develop a group of courses. He also said he would like to strengthen the course offerings in South Asian Studies, along with his wife, Carol Breckenridge.
“All of this connects with my home department,” Appadurai said. “It’s a perfect border-crossing field.”
Appadurai said some doors are open to him because of his interdisciplinary position that are not open to other professors, but he said this means there are many demands for his attention.
“I am boundlessly interested in what other people are up to and I want to get into as many sandboxes as I can while still tending my own teaching research,” Appadurai said. “I need to be careful to pick the things in which I focus my energy because there is always the risk that I will get spread too thin and not make a difference anymore.”