Concepts have cultural biographies and social lives. Some concepts become social and political keywords that can be both indicative of and instrumental in social and political conflicts. (It might even be possible to speak of conceptual violence.) But they are not just contentious; they also tend to be contested. Contentious and contested concepts have been studied by historians and social scientists from varying temporal and spatial horizons. It is a research area that lends itself to cross-disciplinary approaches, as is demonstrated in the three contributions to this section, the first of which investigates the Russian obsession with the concept of “Europe.” The second contribution to the section explores the military roots of the concept of “creative thinking,” and the final contribution examines the social life of “political correctness” as a fighting word.
The Social Life of Contentious Concepts
Ronald S. Stade
The Case of Political Correctness
Ronald S. Stade
Political correctness has become a fighting word used to dismiss and discredit political opponents. The article traces the conceptual history of this fighting word. In anthropological terms, it describes the social life of the concept of political correctness and its negation, political incorrectness. It does so by adopting a concept-in-motion methodology, which involves tracking the concept through various cultural and political regimes. It represents an attempt to synthesize well-established historiographic and anthropological approaches. A Swedish case is introduced that reveals the kind of large-scale historical movements and deep-seated political conflicts that provide the contemporary context for political correctness and its negation. Thereupon follows an account of the conceptual history of political correctness from the eighteenth century up to the present. Instead of a conventional conclusion, the article ends with a political analysis of the current rise of fascism around the world and how the denunciation of political correctness is both indicative of and instrumental in this process.
Timo Kallinen, Michael D. Jackson, Gisela Welz, Hastings Donnan, Jeevan Raj Sharma and Ronald S. Stade
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