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Taking Text Seriously

Remarks on the Methodology of the History of Political Thought

João Feres Júnior

Quentin Skinner's methodological project contains a fundamental imprecision that is rarely mentioned by the secondary literature: the assumption, present in several of his methodological texts, that a theory designed for the analysis of oral communication (speech act theory) can be unreservedly used for interpreting text. In this article I will use some of Paul Ricoeur's phenomenological insights on the difference between textual and oral communication in order to advance a systematic critique of Skinner's project and to suggest new methodological possibilities for the history of political thought and related disciplines. This procedure will also allow me to organize some of the criticism raised against Skinner's Collingwoodean approach since its inception.

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Pivots and Levers

Political Rhetoric around Capitalism in Britain from the 1970s to the Present

Neil Foxlee

This article examines how politicians have applied evaluative-descriptive terms as rhetorical levers to a pivotal basic concept, illustrating the broader rhetorical strategy of dissociation identified by Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca. It focuses on political debates around capitalism that took place in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century British politics, including the period following the financial crisis of 2008. Drawing on data from the Enhanced Hansard Corpus and Hansard Online, together with other contemporary texts, it combines quantitative and qualitative analyses using a corpus-based approach to identify salient items that are then placed in their discursive and sociopolitical contexts. More generally, the article seeks to bridge part of the gap between Koselleckian Begriff sgeschichte and Quentin Skinner’s rhetorical approach by applying what is in effect a historical-pragmatic approach to the history of political concepts.

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Redescribing Political Concepts

History of Concepts and Politics

Sandro Chignola

Kari Palonen, Die Entzauberung Der Begriffe. Das Umschreiben Der Politischen Begriffe Bei Quentin Skinner Und Reinhart Koselleck. Münster: LIT Verlag, 2003.

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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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Translation and Comparison II

A Methodological Inquiry into Reception in the History of Ideas

László Kontler

This article addresses the methodological issues involved in the study of interlingual translation as an avenue of reception in the history of ideas. In particular, it assesses the possible uses of linguistic contextualism and conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte) in this endeavour. It argues that both of these approaches have been, or are capable of being, far more sensitive towards the phenomenon of reception and, indeed, this is an area where cross-fertilization between them (often commended in general but rarely if ever in specific terms) is a practical possibility. Perspectives from Rezeptionsgeschichte may provide useful tools for building bridges between them. A few case studies in translation history are then critically examined, and on the basis of the foregoing methodological reflections propositions are made for further refining the approach taken in those case studies.

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Intellectual History, Liberty and Republicanism

An Interview with Quentin Skinner

Javier Fernández Sebastián and Quentin Skinner

Quentin Skinner was interviewed by Javier Fernández Sebastián (Universidad del País Vasco, Spain) at the Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales, Madrid, on March 29, 2006. This interview has appeared in Spanish translation in Historia y Política 16: 237-258 (2006).

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Voting and Liberty

Contemporary Implications of the Skinnerian Re-thinking of Political Liberty

Kari Palonen

In this paper, the author takes up the opposition between liberty and dependence proposed by Quentin Skinner and applies it to the analysis of the debates involving voting rights and regulations. The goal here is to examine the rhetoric supporting different positions in favor and against the extension of suffrage, the exclusion of certain groups, etc. The author points out that dependence can be detected even in democratic societies that lack traditional hierarchies. A similar effort is made to think how commitment, deliberation, and contestation can take place in the context of today's representative democracy in ways that enhance freedom instead of endangering it.

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Kari Palonen

This article is a thought experiment. It constructs ideal types of political representation in the sense of Max Weber. Inspired by Quentin Skinner and others, the aim is to give a rhetorical turn to contemporary debates on representation. The core idea is to claim an ‘elective affinity’ (Wahlverwandschaft, as Weber says following Goethe) between forms of representation and rhetorical genres of their justification. The four ideal types of political representation are designated as plebiscitary, diplomatic, advocatory, and parliamentary, corresponding to the epideictic, negotiating, forensic, and deliberative genres of rhetoric as the respective ways to plausibly appeal to the audience. I discuss historical approximations of each type of representation and apply the combination of representation and rhetorical genres to the understanding of the European Union’s unconventional system of ‘separation of powers’. I conclude with supporting parliamentary representation, based on dissensus and debate, with complements from other types.

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Helge Årsheim, Nicole Hochner, Helena Rosenblatt, Vilius Mačkinis, Søren Friis, Bogdan C. Iacob and Gennaro Imbriano

Brent Nongbri, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 288 pp.

Christopher H. Johnson, Bernhard Jussen, David Warren Sabean, and Simon Teuscher, eds., Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to Present (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2013), 362 pp.

Quentin Skinner and Martin van Gelderen, eds., Freedom and the Construction of Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 878 pp.

Anna Grzes´kowiak-Krwawicz, Queen Liberty: The Concept of Freedom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 135 pp.

Conor Gearty, Liberty and Security (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013), 146 pp.

Balázs Trencsényi, The Politics of “National Character”: A Study in Interwar East European Thought (London: Routledge, 2012), 227 pp.

Janet Roitman, Anti-Crisis (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2014), 157 pp.

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João Feres Júnior

Contributions to the History of Concepts has now completed two years of existence. Its history has been closely tied to the annual meetings of the History of Political and Social Concepts Group (HPSCG). Talks about evolving from the HPSCG’s Newsletter to an academic periodical publication began in Bilbao, in 2003. The following year, at the 7th International Conference on the History of Concepts, which took place in Rio de Janeiro, we designed a plan to create a new journal that would serve as a conduit for researchers working with conceptual history, as well as for scholars interested in other related fields, such as intellectual history, the history of political thought, the history of ideas, etc. After a great deal of ground work, the journal was finally launched in 2005, both in digital and paper format, with an elegant graphic design and a host of excellent texts by distinguished scholars in the fields of conceptual history, intellectual history, and the history of political thought, such as Quentin Skinner, Melvin Richter, Kari Palonen, and Robert Darnton. The response from the international academic community was immediate and very encouraging. Since then positive feedback from a growing audience worldwide has been constantly on the rise.