Concepta Research Seminar: Historical argumentation. Call for papers

5-6 December 2013, University of Geneva (Switzerland).

Politics of Memory, Uses and Abuses of History, Instrumentalization of the Past: these are some of the numerous ways of designating a fascinating phenomenon, namely the use of elements of the past in political discourses and for political purposes. From time immemorial, political actors have tried to influence their fellow citizens by evoking past role models, examples as well as counter-examples. This was, in fact, the most important justification of historical studies per se and it persisted beyond and despite their becoming a true academic discipline during the 19th century.

This trend has not gone unnoticed and as of the 1980s, more and more scholars have underlined and analyzed it. Understandingly enough, they have first focused on authoritarian regimes since the (ab)use of history/memory/mythologized past is more obvious in such circumstances. Gradually, the focus of their attention shifted to democracies, in which political discourses also refer to the past, albeit in a less ostentatious way. Several historians, sociologists and political scientists have been eager to detect and decipher such particular use of the past in celebrations and manifestations or, arguably, in numerous texts. Moreover, some of them have tried to understand and explain how it works: they have shown that its power notably stems from its combining a scientific and moral status.

This phenomenon is highly discursive, as it is meant to deliver a message. In this framework, words count. For instance, the coining of historical terminology mostly reflects the political ambition of its "inventors", as the use of "Restoration" or "Stagnation" clearly shows. Conversely, the evocation of well-known heroes often refers to ideas they are supposed to symbolize, albeit in an often contradictory way, like Joan of Arc in France. Despite its obvious interest and richness, very few scholars have explored politics of memory from a conceptual perspective, as most of their work is deeply influenced by the history of ideas. In this conference, we intend to fill this void by asking simple though fundamental questions to the historical references used in politics. How is the past referred to? What kinds of concepts are used? Do they stress a nation's destiny, genuine nature, historical heritage or heroes? How do these concepts evolve? How do they interact? What is their discursive power and why ?

Among the many possible ways of addressing these issues, we plan to highlight three topics :

  1. The theoretical links between the Politics of Memory and Conceptual history.
  2. The problem of the kinds of pasts that are used. Although there are countless numbers of historical events and figures, some are more frequently evoked than others along dynamics as well as political and conceptual logics that need to be discussed.
  3. The question of reception. Some sections of the past are more effective than others. The conceptual reasons for their effectiveness, and ineffectiveness, provide a topic worth a more thorough examination.

As a whole, this conference aims at filling a void. We expect to add further fruitful information on the Political uses, and abuse, of the Past by applying conceptual tools and methods to a topic that has already been relatively thoroughly scrutinized. We also hope to enrich and enhance our comprehension of conceptual history as it might allow us to evaluate the extent to which social actors are aware of the history of the terms they address and the terms addressed to them, and to see how and why they play with this duration or are played by it.

The conference will be framed by two keynote lectures delivered by Michael Freeden (Oxford and Nottingham) and Olivier Christin (Neuchâtel).

Please send a short CV and a 150-word abstract of the prospective paper (20 minutes) to both convenors before 15 April 2013 : and Selected participants will have to circulate their papers by 15 November 2013, so that each of them could comment on someone else’s presentation. No attendance fee will be charged. The organizers will provide a few partial travel grants. If you wish to apply for a travel grant, you should indicate this in your application.
For any question please contact :
Tel. ++41 22 379 70 93

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