The benefits of an international academic network, especially during a pandemic

Dear All,

With the recent three month anniversary of the creation of the Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand Studies Network (ACNZSN) I have been reflecting on the benefits of international academic networks. Academia across the world was already facing several challenges before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and with the onset of the pandemic it has been walloped even more. Area Studies in particular had been struggling for some time with the increasing demarcations of distinct disciplines within academia, especially when it comes to funding. Anyway, as someone who specialises in history and politics, but works in Area Studies across several countries (Australia, Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand, and most recently South Africa) I thought I had a unique perspective on this subject.

I used to be involved in the management of a national academic association that focused on the Area Studies of one of the countries of my expertise. Its long-term future had been in doubt ever since it lost its main funding source several years ago. However, I strongly believed that it and other national academic associations could be more viable if they were more open to involving international scholars working in the same area in other countries in the running of their associations. But I faced heavy opposition to this suggestion, and what were in my opinion, the insular and parochial nature of the views expressed during quite heated discussions surrounding this issue made me realise that I needed to leave and pursue an academic dream of mine: the creation of a broader international network that encompassed Area Studies of all three long-standing countries of my expertise. Thus, ACNZSN came into existence 🙂

There are several things that I would like to highlight about ACNZSN. It brings together scholars who work in Area Studies, in the three countries of the focus of the network, quite often from similar disciplinary backgrounds. The public supporters of the network who are from all over the world are an excellent example of this. If ACNZSN was not premised on international collaboration then it would not exist. And I have to say that I have found invaluable the suggestions from ACNZSN’s public supporters on several of its initiatives and am also really grateful for the encouragement, support, and appreciation of my efforts, which made a real change from the previous national academic association that I was involved with. ACNZSN’s regular, fortnightly newsletters feature contributions from scholars all over the world. Moreover, the majority of the public supporters of the network agreed to form the Editorial Board of a new Journal of Australian, Canadian, and Aotearoa New Zealand Studies (JACANZS), a journal that I strongly feel fills an important scholarly gap, and its open-access nature will lead to a much broader dissemination of research, which as academics should be our most paramount concern. In addition, several of ACNZSN’s public supporters have also agreed to form an international adjudication committee to determine the winner of a new annual ACNZSN Book Prize for Early Career Researchers 🙂 I am especially proud that the prize will be open to anyone in the world who works on at least two of the three countries of the network. Many national academic associations confine their book prizes only to their own citizens and permanent residents.

Another thing that I find quite frustrating about some national academic associations is they very often have a very narrow view of their membership. In that management positions in the associations are either implicitly or explicitly for people from within those countries. An example is one where importance was placed on having representation from all the universities in the country, with no acknowledgement that there were people who worked in Area Studies of that particular country overseas. And it is not just book prizes of academic associations that are limited to citizens or permanent residents of particular countries. Many government or library book prizes also operate on the same basis, which I have always thought is unfair and also non-sensical, as you would have thought that those institutions would appreciate someone from overseas being interested in studying their countries.

Therefore, in this unprecedented challenging period for academia, we need to be more to open to working together internationally, combining our usually very limited resources to continue doing what we believe is beneficial not only for the academy, but broader society. We should not be so obsessed with national boundaries but instead be open to working together across national borders. This is something that I have always valued about academia, and my own international career reflects this, and it is something that I will continue to advocate for! 🙂

Best Wishes,

Dr. Jatinder Mann

Creator and Manager of ACNZSN

Editor-in-chief of JACANZS

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