Spaces, Languages, Time: the 15th International Conference on the History of Concepts, Helsinki, August 2012

Spaces, Languages, Time: the 15th International Conference on the History of Concepts

Helsinki, 23–25 August 2012
Organised by the History of Political and Social Concepts Group and the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of Helsinki

The history of concepts has established itself as a scholarly movement in which language is regarded both as a mirror of historical change as well as an engine for making change happen. Analyses of the use of particular concepts for extended periods of time as well as the scrutiny of rhetoric in individual speech acts have proven to be useful for scholars in history, political science, sociology, linguistics, translation studies and law, among other academic fields.

Recent scholarship in the history of concepts has increasingly focused on spatial dimensions of conceptual change. Studies comparing uses of concepts in different settings, studies of transfers and translations of particular concepts, as well as studies examining the appropriation of political and social concepts to particular national or regional political cultures, have all contributed to opening up this field of enquiry. They have highlighted a conspicuous need for better understandings of how spatio-cultural asymmetries affect the use of political language in regions perceived as more or less influential, how particular historical agents have used different spaces of communication in their deployment of concepts, and how political and social concepts have crossed linguistic, cultural and national borders.

The analysis of concepts entering different languages – be these scholarly, political or other linguistic communities that in a sense have their own conceptual universe – may challenge the notion of language altogether. In multi-lingual environments, for instance, different natural languages have often served different functions in society. This directly points to questions of how different functions of languages have been affected by the introduction of new concepts. A focus on how concepts are transformed, as well as how new concepts trigger transformations in the culture they enter when introduced to a new linguistic community, may well showcase the asymmetrical relation between different languages.

The spatio-cultural dimensions of conceptual change are not void of temporal properties. The outcomes of the introduction of new political or social concepts to a particular language may have varied effects depending on the level of receptiveness within a linguistic community at a given time. Regional asynchronicities in the use of concepts have played a role for individual agents as a way of timing the introduction, redefinition or redescription of particular concepts. A better understanding of the asynchronicities at play when addressing the spatial dimensions of conceptual change may well be one of the outcomes of an increased focus on cross-national, cross-continental, and even global studies in the history of concepts.

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