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
Between Contestation and Mediation
In light of the pragmatic aspirations of ordinary language philosophy, this essay critically examines the competing grammatical strictures that are often set forth within the theoretical discourse of 'power'. It repudiates both categorically appraisive employments of 'power' and the antithetical urge to fully operationalize the concept. It offers an attenuated defense of the thesis that 'power' is an essentially contestable concept, but rejects the notion that this linguistic fact stems from conflict between antipodal ideological paradigms. Careful attention to the ordinary pragmatics of power-language evinces the prospects for integrating various context-specific aspects of power and mediating between traditionally divergent theoretical frameworks.
A Study in the Rehabilitation of a Concept
For centuries, innovation was a political and contested concept and linguistic weapon used against one's enemy. To support their case, opponents of innovation made use of arguments from ethos and pathos to give power and sustenance to their criticisms and to challenge the innovators. However, since the nineteenth century the arguments have changed completely. Innovation gradually got rehabilitated. This article looks at one type of rehabilitation: the semantic rehabilitation. People started to reread history and to redescribe what innovation is. What was bad innovation became good innovation because of long-lasting and beneficial effects, so it was believed.
This special issue sets out to examine aspects of German politics, philosophy,
and society through the multifaceted lens of cosmopolitanism. A complex
and contested concept, cosmopolitanism has particularly important
implications for the study of contemporary nation-states, as conventional
understandings of bounded territory and sovereignty are reassessed in the
context of globalization, migration and transnationalism. Accordingly, this
introduction aims to outline several key strands of cosmopolitan thought
with reference both to contemporary Germany and the wider global conjuncture,
in order to provide a conceptual framework for the articles that
follow. It begins by briefly placing cosmopolitanism in the context of the
evolving concepts of German Heimat (homeland) and nation, because contemporary
cosmopolitanism can only be fully understood in relation to
nationalism. It then looks at the relevance of methodological, political and
ethical cosmopolitanism for the study of nation-states today, before introducing
the five articles in the special issue.
Els van Dongen and Hong Liu
What is the added value of investigating the contested concept of “sustainability” in tandem with the geographical marker of “Asia” in today’s world? To answer this question, we need to return to the formulation of the problematique of “sustainability” and “sustainable development” several decades ago. The Our Common Future report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)—also known as the Brundtland Commission—put forward the most commonly recognized and most frequently used definition of “sustainable development” (SD) in 1987.1 Development could be made sustainable, so the report stated, “to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987: 15). The report further proclaimed that there were limits to development, but that improvements in technology and social development could “make way for a new era of economic growth” (ibid.).
Laura Louise Sarauw
Critics often see the European Bologna Process as a univocal standardisation of higher education. By exploring how different qualifications frameworks project different social imaginaries of globalisation, this article takes a different stance. The overarching qualifications framework of the Bologna Process rests on a socially constituted and contested concept of globalisation as a change towards a more diverse and unforeseeable world, which calls for the development of flexible, lifelong learners with a broad knowledge base and strong democratic competencies. Although this social imaginary is widely known, I argue that it is also highly contested. For example, the Danish qualifications framework of 2003 projects a social imaginary of globalisation as a change towards a smaller and more predictable world, which enables a novel and more efficient alignment of the curriculum towards specific professional needs, and where the development of a broad knowledge base and democratic competencies are no longer prioritised.
foundational, if contestable, concepts (e.g., culture, humanity) and its constitutive practice of ethnographic fieldwork. As a result, theology does not end with anthropology; rather, it becomes reconstituted within the latter’s secular syntax. Anthropology