In this paper we address the question of 'what next after poststructuralism' through a reassessment of area studies. In a narrative of our own involvement with place-oriented research and institutions, we examine the traditional position of area studies in geography and anthropology and its reevaluation by poststructuralist scholars in a number of disciplines. We argue that both prestructuralist and poststructuralist treatments of areas are oriented by a narrative of capitalist development; at the same time, we recognize that traditional area studies has a deep interest in noncapitalist economic practices and relations. It is therefore a resource for those of us who want to create a discourse of economic diversity as a contribution to a politics of economic innovation. The latter half of the paper presents an extended example of reading for economic difference drawn from fieldwork in the oil-palm sector in Papua New Guinea. We conclude with a 'post-poststructuralist' reflection on geographic field research. From our evolving perspective, the fieldwork practices that are the principal research methods of area studies constitute a relatively untheorized form of academic politics, creating differences in thought (and thus in the world) via new interpenetrations of concepts and 'matter'.