This article sets the scene for the Special Issue ‘Reaching for allies?’ by setting out the research questions and structure of the Special Issue. Specifically, this introduction reviews the state of the art of dialectics interweaving International Relations and Area Studies. Specifically, it focuses on tracing the genealogy of these debates, identifying the actors engaged with them, as well as, mapping those sites where such transdisciplinary knowledge is produced and circulated. We also provide an assessment of the interaction between the two disciplinary traditions as scholarly disciplines by reviewing the field as it had developed in the last decade since 2013. In order to do so, we present data on the brokers of this dialogue by analysing top-ranked Journals across regions, dedicated Special Issues on the matter as well as main international conferences and participants. Overall, this article provides a threefold contribution: first, we provide an account of the globalization of knowledge production and circulation that has also increasingly decentred, valuing local peculiarities and epistemological traditions beyond the Western academia(s). Second, we assess and discuss how Western and non-Western academics have contoured concepts which demand and entail site-intensive techniques of enquiry, exposure to complexities on the grounds, ethnographic sensitivity, and, at the same time, comparative endeavours going beyond area specialisms. Third, by looking at international and regional policy-making milieus with attention to context-specificity, we believe critical policy-relevant implications can be discussed, specifically in relation to local ownership and bottom-up approaches.