Biographies of Concepts in the Human and Social Sciences


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Link to shared folder with papers: (password required)

This two-day symposion brings together a number of international scholars who will explore the history of concepts in the humanities and social science. The focus will be on the emergence, migration, dissemination, and disappearance of concepts, ultimately aiming at a theory of what might be called the “death” and “afterlife” of concepts. Ever since the seminal work of Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem, the history of concepts has played an important role for a critical history of rationality and history of science at large. Path-breaking studies on concepts like probability and objectivity have not only refined the methodological framework within historical epistemology but shown the importance of such an approach. The focus on the relation between language and intellectual practices has been accompanied by a novel understanding of knowledge-production in the respective fields. We are looking to initiate a discussion about the potential of this approach for the history of the human and social sciences.

This workshop is co-sponsored by the Austria-Berkeley fund of the Marshall Plan Foundation, the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society, and the Departments of Anthropology and Rhetoric.


Please, note changes to the original program!

Thursday, March 19 (Townsend Center, Geballe Room)

9-9.30AM Mario Wimmer (Berkeley): Writing histories of concepts

9.30-10.30AM Hélène Mialet (Davis): The History and Limits of the Actor-Network Concept

Respondent: Mario Biagioli

11-12AM Benjamin Wurgaft (Cambridge, Mass.): A Meditation on Canguilhem’s Concept of the Cell: Vitality in and out of Cartesian Vats

Respondent: Jonathan Sheehan


1.30-2.30 PM Niklas Olsen (Copenhagen): The Concept of the Consumer in Neoliberal Political Thought

Respondent: Christian Geulen

2.30-3.30PM Harm Kaal/Wim de Jong (Nijmwegen/Amsterdam): Conceptions of Class. The Interaction Between Scientific and Political Languages of Class in the Netherlands, c. 1930s-1980s

Respondent: Christian Fleck

3.30-4.00PM Break

Please, note that we change venue for the afternoon and evening to 470 Stephens Hall

4.00-5.00PM Marie Burks (Cambridge, Mass.): Thinking Through “Conflict”: Defining a Social Scientific Concept in Cold War America

Respondent: David Bates

5.00-6.00PM Break

6-7.30PM Paul Rabinow: What is a Case?: Concepts and Practices
Introduction: Mario Wimmer
followed by reception

Friday, March 20 (Townsend Center, Geballe Room)

9.30-10.30 AM Eric Schatzberg (Wisconsin): From Technologie to Technology: Death and Rebirth of a Keyword

Respondent: Cathryn Carson

10.30-11.00AM Break

11.00-12.00PM Neus Rotger (Barcelona): Historicizing Romance
Respondent: Anthony J. Cascardi

12.00-1.30PM Lunch Break

1.30-2.30PM Lisa Reade (Berkeley): Metaphor as Orientation: Kant to Blumenberg
Respondent: A. Aloisia Moser

2.30-3.30PM Henning Trüper (Berlin/Paris): Future Philology and Behind Philology: Ruminations on a Nineteenth-Century German Concept
Respondent: Niklaus Largier

3.30-4PM Break

4-5PM Simon Taylor (Chicago): From Kierkegaard to Klonopin, or, Toward a Conceptual History of Anxiety

Respondent: Thomas Laqueur

5.15-6PM Final discussion