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Decline as a Form of Conceptual Change

Some Considerations on the Loss of the Legal Person

Douglas C. Dow

Conceptual decline has been one of the least examined forms of conceptual change. This essay explores some of the methodological and interpretive problems that have arisen through a study of the declining use of the concept of legal personhood in Anglo-American juridical discourse over the first half of the twentieth century. Such effort will generate a number of significant methodological questions: 1) How does identifying conceptual decline challenge an author-centered approach to a history of conceptual change? 2) How might the decline of a concept in one discourse affect the ways in which the term operates in other discourses; and how does the study of concepts operating across multiple discourses complicate the dichotomy between basic and technical concepts? 3) How might a once active, but now silent, concept continue to impact political discourse? Do lost concepts have an "afterlife"? The study of conceptual decline benefits from an interaction between Begriffsgeschichte and Cambridge School methods of studying conceptual change, while at the same time questioning some of the foundational assumptions of each approach.

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Ibanga B. Ikpe

The debate as to whether the humanities is in decline is almost over. Statistics on declining enrolments, shrinking job prospects, dwindling funding and growing condescension from society add up to show that all is not well. Humanities scholars have, in the recent past, tried to discover what is wrong as well as do something to demonstrate that the humanities is still relevant to society. In this regard, many have suggested that the humanities should change to accommodate the needs of the marketplace, while others have argued that to do so will change the humanities so drastically as to render it unrecognizable. This article is about the current state of affairs in the humanities and the different views that have been expressed on it. It argues that rather than the humanities, it is actually society that is in decline, and as such changing the humanities to suit the needs of the marketplace would be a disservice to our long humanistic tradition. It acknowledges that humanities scholars need to engage more with society even as they continue in activities that have defined the humanities through the years and argues for humanities therapy as a way for the humanities to engage with a world that is increasingly enamoured with technê.

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Raymond Geuss

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair has appealed to the other members of the European Union to engage constructively with the Bush administration as a means of working towards peace in a perilous world. The combination of highly developed destructive capacity, relative economic decline, diplomatic incompetence, and continuing political divisions among a frustrated and resentful population that is deeply ignorant of the wider world and subject to recurrent bouts of collective paranoia does indeed make the United States a dangerous international agent. One of the main ways, in particular, in which the U.S. represents a particular menace to world peace at the moment is that it has come to be in Washington’s short-term interest to make the world a place in which the quick recourse to violence, and the constant threat of violence, is accepted as part of normal practice in international relations. The use of military power presents itself as an increasingly attractive option primarily because the U.S. is becoming weaker and weaker economically and politically, and force is one of the few means U.S. politicians can deploy that offer any hope whatever of allowing them to advance or protect what they think are their vital interests.

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Crisis of Democracy?

Recognizing the Democratic Potential of Alternative Forms of Political Participation

Brendan McCaffrie and Sadiya Akram

According to the mainstream literature on political participation, declining rates of voting and party and interest group membership reflect a crisis of democracy in Western democracies. In this article, we challenge this view by highlighting the rise of alternative forms of political participation that operate outside formal arenas. We suggest that the mainstream approach ignores such forms of political participation for two reasons: First, it operates with a narrow arena definition of politics; second, it is based on the assumption that non-participation in arena politics results from political apathy. We suggest that there is not a crisis of political participation, but there is a growing crisis in engagement resulting from an uncoupling between citizens and the state. Halting this form of democratic decline through a recoupling process will require changes on the part of governments and citizens.

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The Rise of the Anglo-Saxon

French Perceptions of the Anglo-American World in the Long Twentieth Century

Emile Chabal

This article attempts to reconstruct a genealogy of one of the most ubiquitous terms in contemporary French politics: the Anglo-Saxon. It traces the emergence of the term in the second half of the nineteenth century and examines its numerous meanings through the twentieth century. Rather than assume that references to the Anglo-Saxon have been little more than straightforward forms of anti-Americanism or Anglophobia, it suggests that the term has been mobilized in specific debates, both as a reflection of French decline and as an alternative “model“ to which France should aspire. A study of the notion of the Anglo-Saxon thus offers insight into how the French have imagined two of their most prominent global competitors and how they have come to terms with the consequences of social and economic modernization.

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Seumas Bates

By conceptualizing the recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill as forming part of ongoing processes of “becoming” and the everyday, this article explores how the relative power of a historically privileged group of White males in rural Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, faced significant challenge. First, through the breakdown of informal racial segregation in local social institutions, and through the newly ubiquitous nature of mobile homes threatening their rejection of “trailer trash” culture. Second, however, this impact must be understood within ongoing changes across wider American society, where a locally valorized ideal of normative 1950s culture was seen to be in conflict with the civil rights and feminist movements of the late twentieth century. This imagined cultural hegemony was therefore in serious decline long before these catastrophes, yet has now been confined to the time “before the Storm.”

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Melissa Feinberg

Source citation: “The Decline of Family Life,” Item #687/54, 29 January 1954, Open Society Archive, Budapest (HU-OSA), fond 300-1-2 (Records of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Research Institute: General Records: Information Items), microfilm reel 33. This source is also available in the Open Society Archive’s online collection. The online citation is: “The Decline of Family Life,” 29 January 1954. HU-OSA300-1-2-43100; Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute: General Records: Information Items. http://www.osaarchivum.org/greenfield/repository/osa:e831c10f- 9229-4fdb-a45a-4b059f4dceeb (accessed 1.10.2015).

This translation is published with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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Discourse of Decline

Local Perspectives on Magic in Highland Jambi, Indonesia

J. David Neidel

Scholarly studies of magic, sorcery, and witchcraft have differed in their conclusions about the empirical efficacy of such practices and the persistence of related concepts. Often marginalized in these accounts, however, are local commentaries that address those same issues. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research in the highland Jambi region of central Sumatra, this article examines magical practices found in the region, the modes through which they are acquired, and connections to a set of ethereal beings that lie at the source of those supernatural abilities. While the belief in and practice of magical powers remain widespread, there exists a general 'discourse of decline'. This article analyzes several elements of that discourse, particularly declining potency, practice, relevance, and believability, showing where local perspectives converge and diverge with those that underlie alternative scholarly frameworks.

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The Prime, Decline, and Recalling of Rural Cycling

Bicycle Practices in 1920s' and 1930s' Finland Remembered in 1971-1972

Tiina Männistö-Funk

The article studies rural cycling in Finland in the 1920s and 1930s through a folklore survey conducted in 1971-1972. Written memories enable a rare insight in the disappeared practices of bicycle use in the countryside. Comparing the role of the bicycle in the remembered time and the time of remembering, the article furthermore scrutinizes the role of historical narratives in the cultural constructions of the bicycle. Instead of demonstrating a linear, universal decline in the face of motorization, changes in bicycle use and redefinitions of the bicycle are linked to fundamental societal changes.

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How Do Religions End?

Theorizing Religious Traditions from the Point of View of How They Disappear

Joel Robbins

What does it mean for a new religion to arise or take hold among a group of people? What does it mean for a religious tradition to endure? These are questions that are quite commonly addressed, at least implicitly, in the study of religion. Less frequently asked is the question of what it means for a religious tradition to come to an end. This article addresses this question, paying particular attention to the ways people actively dismantle a religious tradition that previously shaped their lives. I also consider what studying the process of religious disappearance can teach us about what it means for a tradition to arise and endure, arguing that a grasp on processes of religious dissolution is necessary for a fully rounded approach to the study of religious change. Throughout the article, I illustrate my arguments with material from the study of Christianity, Judaism and indigenous religious traditions, particularly from Oceania.