This project is supported by a BA/Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant, and approaches the political risk industry as a particular form of ‘area studies’. It explores how the institutional context in which political risk analysis is carried out affects the form and content of ‘regional expertise’. In political geography, critical interest in how area studies knowledge is produced has recently been revived. However, the place of the political risk industry in the evolution of area studies has not yet been examined. In this project, perspectives from political geography are integrated with approaches from science and technology studies to examine the evaluation cultures of political risk analysis. The research will involve historical analysis of political risk reports (1980s to present) focusing on Bangladesh and South Africa, interviews with key figures in the political risk industry, and short periods of participatory research at global political risk summits. The project will improve understanding of how regional expertise is cultivated outside the university sector, and the influence this expertise has on decision-making in transnational business.
This research project commenced in April 2017 and ended in September 2018.
Responding to concerns that universities in the UK are facing a crisis in area studies that threatens the cultivation of regional expertise, political geographers have begun to highlight the existence of ‘third wave’ or 'critical' area studies This third wave takes account of transnational migration, and of postcolonial critiques of the regional units established by the first wave of Imperial area studies - designed to foster forms of regional expertise that could aid in the colonial project - and the second wave of social scientific area studies that was institutionalised in the USA during the Cold War.
However, most work on the history of area studies has not engaged with the political risk industry, where firms produce maps, briefings and advice for transnational business operators, and which is now seen as a ‘growth industry in its own right’. While there was early interest in the in-house political risk capacity of US firms operating in newly independent postcolonial nations, this work did not address the form or content of regional expertise directly.
This project seeks to address a gap in the geographical literature by exploring regional expertise in the growing political risk industry. It does so by asking four inter-related questions:
This project is ongoing; output, findings and impact will be updated in due course.
Dr Paul Robert Gilbert
The project is ongoing and output will be updated in due course.