CFP: Biographies of Concepts in the Human and Social Sciences

CFP: Biographies of Concepts in the Human and Social Sciences

19-20 March 2015, University of California, Berkeley

In this workshop, we want to bring together scholars who have studied concepts and notions in the human and social sciences. 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 by Ian Hacking, Lorraine Daston, or Peter Galison on concepts like probability and objectivity have not only refined the methodological framework within historical epistemology but shown the importance of such an approach. This 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.

In the history of the human and social sciences concepts play a key role in shaping debates and the thought styles of both established disciplines and transient research fields across disciplines. Some have lasting impact over decades before some of them disappear from the scene. What happened, for example, to concepts like “attitude,” “class,” “source,” or “embourgeoisement”? How did they shape the argumentation, rhetoric, and thought style of scientific and public discourse? How can we explain and analyze their sudden disappearance after decades of strong explanatory power? If concepts have disappeared in one field, do they resurface in another? One might further ask if the disappearance of a concept was also an indicator for moments of conceptual innovation since concepts might travel and this may in consequence allow for novel ways of thinking in different terms.

The workshop asks for contributions to the history of concepts in the human and social sciences. The objective of the workshop is to discuss the emergence, the use, and finally the disappearance of concepts as tools that shaped the style of thinking of in the human and social sciences. We also look to attract papers that deal with the conceptual history of the human and social sciences using new tools like Ngram or other techniques of distant reading since we are also interested in discussing the potential in this renaissance of cliometrics. In addition, proposals on other topics of general interest to a conceptual history of the humanities and social sciences will be considered.

Proposals can address, but are not limited to the following topics:

  • The disappearance of concepts
  • The relation between the history of concepts and intellectual practice
  • Traveling, dissemination, and circulation of concepts across disciplines
  • Concepts shared by academic and other discourses, e.g. political language
  • Conceptual history and Digital Humanities

The workshop offers a platform for interdisciplinary exchange on the problems and practices in this emerging field. Proposals for papers should not be no longer than 400 words and include a short CV of the author (including name, institutional affiliations, and up to 5 representative publications). All participants are expected to pre-circulate a short paper and a set of source texts. We will also discuss the possible publication of papers during the workshop.

Submission deadline: 3 December 2014. Please send your proposals to

Nota Bene: There is only a small amount of funding available for those without funding for travel and accommodation. Please, indicate on your application if and how much funding you would need.

For more information, please click here.


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