This article explores the development of Korea's conceptual history from the perspective of sociology of knowledge by focusing on the intellectual environment since the early 1990s, pioneers and areas of conceptual research, the kinds of expectations that Korean scholars have of conceptual research, data archiving and methodology, works and tasks of conceptual history in Korea. The article finds that the conceptual research on Korea's modernization is a good approach to construct a reflexive history beyond the false dichotomy of Western influence and nationalistic response.
Its Development and Prospects
Is the Concept of Democracy Essentially Contested?
This article surveys the history of the concept of democracy from Ancient times to the present. According to the author, the conceptual history of democracy shows that the overwhelming success of the concept is most of all due to its ability to subsume very different historical ideas and realities under its semantic field. Moreover, the historical evolution of the concept reveals that no unequivocal definition is possible because of the significant paradoxes, aporias, and contradictions it contains. These are popular sovereignty vs. representation, quality vs. quantity, liberty vs. equality, individual vs. collective, and, finally, the synchronicity between similarities and dissimilarities. The ubiquitous usage of democracy in present-day political language makes it impossible to speak of it from an external perspective. Thus, both democratic theory and practice are suffused with empirical and normative elements.
The author argues that conceptual history is becoming increasingly indispensable due to the historical trend in political practices to move from a politics of answers to given questions to a politics of thematizing the questions themselves, that is, of agenda-setting. The very understanding of a certain question as contingent and controversial marks a politicizing change in the agenda. From the perspective of the history of concepts, the formulation of questions themselves become politically key issues, given that rhetorical problems of the renaming and reinterpretation of the meaning, significance and normative color of concepts play a key role in the decisions regarding inclusion and exclusion. Assuming that concepts function as “pivots” in the contemporary controversy, there is at least some possibility for change in terms of rendering the controversy intelligible by means of the instruments of conceptual history. If conceptual history were ever to play a direct political role, it might concern teaching politicians the styles of both a conceptual reading of politics and a political reading of the uses of concepts.
State of the Art
This review article provides an overview of important, recent approaches to conceptual history from scholarship on South Asia. While conceptual history is not a consolidated field in South Asia, the colonial encounter has greatly stimulated interest in conceptual inquiries. Recent scholarship questions the uniformity even of well-researched concepts such as liberalism. It is methodologically innovative in thinking about the influence of economic structures for the development of concepts. Rethinking religious and secular languages, scholars have furthermore stressed the importance of smaller communicative units such as genre or hermeneutical practices to shape ideas e.g. of the political. As part of global and imperial formations, scholars are well aware of the link between power and colonial temporalities. Lastly, they have suggested new sources for conceptual history, such as literature, film, and sound.
The article singles out one dimension of the history of concepts in general and of Koselleck’s work in particular, the “theory of historical times,” which at present is both contested and simply overlooked. After discussing some of the arguments for and against the necessity of such a theory for the practice of conceptual history, the article moves on to suggest an alternative context for grasping its originality, the so-called linguistic turn, manifest in French structuralist thought and especially in the works of Michel Foucault. In Koselleck’s works key structuralist ideas like structure and the diachronicsynchronic opposition are developed in ways that open them to questions of historicity and multiple times.
From National to Entangled Histories
The last decade has witnessed a remarkable internationalization in conceptual history. Research covers more countries and languages than ever before, and there have been a number of very good comparative studies. This article reflects on the possibility of taking conceptual history beyond comparison. Like nations, languages can no longer be considered as naturally given entities, but have to be viewed as profoundly shaped by historical exchanges. This brings conceptual history into a dialogue with translation studies in a common attempt to unravel how equivalents between languages have been created by the actors.
Challenges and Prospects
Alp Eren Topal and Einar Wigen
In this article, we discuss the pitfalls and benefits of conceptual history as an approach to Ottoman studies. While Ottoman studies is blossoming and using a wider set of tools to study the Ottoman past, Ottoman intellectual history is still resigned to a life-and-works approach. Th is absence of synthesizing attempts has left intellectual history in the margins. In addition to the lack of new, theoretically sophisticated accounts of how Ottoman intellectual and political changes were intertwined, the old Orientalist works still hold canonical status in the field. Drawing on recent developments in social and political history, conceptual history may be a good way of doing self-reflective longue durée intellectual history. Ottoman conceptual history may also off er nonspecialists more sophisticated bases for comparison with non-Ottoman cases.
An Interview with Reinhart Koselleck
Javiér Fernández Sebastián, Juan Francisco Fuentes and Reinhart Koselleck
Among the many subjects you have worked on throughout your career, we would like to concentrate on those related to the methodology of intellectual history, especially conceptual history. We will then go on to make you a few questions about your recent work on memory and identity.
A New Forum
João Feres Júnior
Not long ago, conceptual history was an approach restricted to German-speaking academic circles and to very few scholars worldwide. This situation has markedly changed in the last two decades, primarily of the appearance of research projects for studying concepts in historical perspective in other European countries — such as Finland, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France, and Spain — and because of Melvin Richter’s endeavor in promoting an encounter between German Begriffsgeschichte and English speaking approaches for the historical study of political languages, discourses, and rhetoric. The History of Political and Social Concepts Group (HPSCG) is among the most significant results of these developments.
João Feres Júnior
The author argues that the development of a critical history of concepts should be based on a programmatic position different from that of original Begriffsgeschichte, or of its main interpretations. By drawing upon theoretical insights of Axel Honneth, he reassesses the basic assumption of Begriffsgeschichte regarding the relationship between the history of concepts and social history, and calls attention to the problems that spring from focusing analysis almost exclusively on key concepts. According to Feres, special attention should be paid to concepts that are socially and politically effective, but, at the same time, do not become the subject of public contestation. Based on this programmatic position, he ends the article proposing a sketch for organizing the study of conceptual history in Brazil along three semantic regions.